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Tuberculosis rates are dropping, WHO reports

Good news on the tuberculosis front: The World Health Organization reports that TB rates are dropping for the first time.

The WHO 2011 Global Tuberculosis Control Report was released today at a Washington news conference, and it details the strides that have been made globally in eradicating TB. Among the 258-page report’s findings: The number of people who contracted TB fell from a high of 9 million in 2005 to 8.8 million in 2010. Deaths dropped from 1.8 million in 2003 to 1.4 million in 2010, and the death rate plummeted 40% from 1990 to 2010. Cure rates are high -- in 2009, 87% of people who had TB were cured, but the report also found that a third of likely TB cases are never alerted, so it’s not known if those people were diagnosed and treated.

Some countries have shown that the extra effort and money put into fighting the disease have paid off. Kenya, Tanzania and Brazil have all seen TB rates decline in the last 10 to 20 years. China’s progress has been substantial, with death rates dropping by almost 80% from 1990 to 2010. The frequency of TB was also cut in half in that time.

More anti-TB funding no doubt helped bring death and disease rates down, but the report notes that, in general, countries are facing a shortfall of $1 billion for implementing tuberculosis-related programs in 2012. Treating multidrug-resistant strains of TB is one of the biggest underfunded areas. Another area of concern is the co-epidemic of HIV and tuberculosis. As for TB diagnosis and treatments, the report said progress is being made in several areas, including shortened drug therapies.

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The WHO report comes on the heels of a recent British Medical Journal study that found there could be an extra 18 million cases of tuberculosis by 2050 if worldwide smoking rates remain at current levels.

The study projected TB rates based on a variety of scenarios of smoking rates. If current levels continue, there could be 40 million excess deaths by 2050. Currently almost 20% of people around the world smoke tobacco. However, if smoking rates were to drop 1% a year from 2015, it could mean a 27% decrease in cumulative smoking-related deaths from TB by 2050, compared with current rate numbers, the study said.


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