WHO: Tuberculosis Infection Rate Falling Too Slowly

The rate of tuberculosis infection is falling at such a slow rate it would take more than 1,000 years to wipe the disease out, a top health official said Tuesday.

The World Health Organization's annual report on TB presented in Rio was full of pessimistic points: an expected $1.6 billion gap in funding needed to fight the disease this year; a doubling of the reported cases of people who have both TB and HIV, and an increase in the number of cases of drug-resistant TB.

"We have a situation with very little progress, particularly in Africa and Eastern and Central Europe," said Tido von Schoen-Angerer, the executive director of Doctors Without Borders who was attending the conference on TB. "There is no room anywhere in this report for congratulations."

The survey estimates that 9.27 million people around the globe had TB in 2007 — the latest year for figures. That is slightly up from 9.24 million in 2006.

That amounts to a per capita rate of 139 per 100,000 people globally, the report states. That pace, a drop of less than 1 percent a year, has continued for the "last several years," said Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO's Stop TB program.

He said it would take millennia to wipe out the disease at that rate.

The number of TB cases linked to HIV in 2007 — 1.4 million — was double that in 2006, a jump officials attributed to better reporting of such cases in more nations, particularly Africa, where 79 percent of the cases were reported.

In 2007, 1.3 million people died from TB, while another 465,000 people who had both TB and HIV died.

Multiple-drug-resistant cases of TB also rose in 2007 to 500,000. Such cases are more difficult to treat and have a higher rate of deaths. Raviglione said a TB conference in China early next month will focus on these cases.

Aggravating the fight against TB is the global financial crisis.

Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the U.N.-backed Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said funding for programs to fight TB will fall $1.6 billion short in 2009, a gap he estimates will reach at least $4 billion in 2010.

"The crisis is severely affecting developing nations," he said. "But countries should realize health costs are an investment for development and not just a strain on budgets."

Asia registered the most TB cases in 2007, with 55 percent, while Africa had 31 percent. Among nations, India had the most cases with 2 million, China had 1.3 million and Indonesia 530,000.