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WHO & Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis has ravaged the world throughout history—from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome to today, where it has adapted into drug-resistant forms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified tuberculosis as “one of the world’s deadliest diseases,” infecting millions per year. Nine million cases of TB were recorded in 2012, and of that number, 1.3 million deaths resulted.

Tuberculosis is most prevalent in South-East Asia, Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean, according to a report by the American Lung Association. These regions also have high incidences of TB and HIV co-infection. The CDC states that TB is the “leading killer” of people with HIV.

Tuberculosis, which attacks the body in the form of bacteria, usually affects the lungs, but can also threaten the kidneys, spine and brain. It is transmitted through the air. The disease has the capacity to affect many in the form of “latent TB infection” and “TB Disease.”

Those with latent TB do not get sick, as their body has fought off the infection. They also cannot pass the infection to others. However, the bacteria can “become active in the body and multiply,” causing the person to “go from having latent TB infection to being sick with TB disease.” TB disease typically occurs when one’s immune system cannot stop bacteria from growing. Those with TB disease can spread the bacteria to others.

On July 3, 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) released its plan to eradicate tuberculosis in countries with fewer than 100 cases per million people. There are 33 such countries, all located within Europe and North America. While these are not regions where the disease is endemic, eradicating TB in these areas would help develop strategies for treating TB in high incidence areas in the future, says Medical News Today.

The WHO has broken down their plan into different stages. First, they would have “an initial pre-elimination phase,” which purposes to reduce the number of cases to 10 per million people by 2035. “Full elimination” is to be achieved by 2050, which would result in one case per million people. Tuberculosis would no longer cause a public health threat at this point.

In order to reach full elimination, the WHO has specified “eight key interventions” that they will implement in the 33 countries. Funding, TB screening, investment in research and tools and monitoring of the program are all key aspects of the package. Additionally, addressing more indirect issues related to TB are included. For example, monitoring migrant and “cross-border issues” would help identify TB in at-risk populations. Additionally, this would extend the program into regions with high rates of TB and help these areas develop strategies for TB reduction.

Why did the WHO choose these 33 countries to implement their plan? According to Dr. Hiroki Nakatani, the World Health Organization Assistant Director-General, areas with low-TB prevalence “already have the means to drive down TB cases dramatically by 2035.” Additionally, efforts will not only take place in the 33 countries, but also in endemic regions. Medical News Today says that efforts in areas with high TB prevalence will have to increase in order to prevent the spread of TB from these areas to low-risk regions.

— Bridget Tobin 

Sources: Medical News Today, WHO 1, WHO 2, CDC 1, CDC 2, NIH, American Lung Association
Photo: World Focus