Wednesday, May 19, 2010

UN efforts to fight tuberculosis are not working

A new study published in the UK medical journal "The Lancet" says that the the way the World Health Organization fights tuberculosis is ineffective. There are more cases of TB that at any other time in history and the disease resulted in 2 million deaths last year. The journal article is calling on the WHO to use new tactics to fight the disease in addition to prescribing drugs to patients.

From this Associated Press article that we found at Google News, writer Maria Cheng tells us more about what "The Lancet" has to say.

For years, the World Health Organization and partners have fought TB largely with a program where health workers watch patients take their drugs — even though the agency acknowledged in a 2008 report that this treatment program didn't significantly curb TB spread.

Experts said TB isn't only a medical problem, but is intertwined with poverty, as it spreads widely among people living in overcrowded, dirty places. They said TB programs need to go beyond health and include other sectors like housing, education and transportation.

Some officials questioned whether continued U.N. programs could even combat TB. "The main priority for TB control is improved living conditions and economic growth, which is outside the control of the U.N.," said Philip Stevens, a health policy expert at International Policy Network, a London-based think tank. "TB cannot be tackled in isolation."

Stevens said the global health community also needs to be more vigilant about the drugs they buy for TB programs. According to a 2007 report from the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, half of the drugs the fund bought for poor countries didn't comply with their own drug quality standards.

Dr. Mario Raviglione, head of WHO's TB department, said the recent fall in TB was "very minor" and that the agency was trying to understand how better to fight the epidemic.

Still, WHO said their basic TB programs cured more than 36 million people between 1995 and 2008, and saved up to 6 million from dying of the potentially fatal lung disease.

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