Health News

Death Rate From Tuberculosis Exceeds HIV/AIDS, WHO Says

The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that while the death rate of tuberculosis has been cut in half since 1990, nearly 1.5 million people still died from the disease in 2014. The death rate reported puts tuberculosis on par with other leading causes of deaths, exceeding the death rate of HIV and AIDS, which killed 1.2 million people globally in the same year.

A majority of these deaths “could have been prevented”, said the WHO in a news release. Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, said that the statistics demonstrate the need to control the disease by scaling up services and research.

The report shows that TB control has had a tremendous impact in terms of lives saved and patients cured. These advances are heartening, but if the world is to end this epidemic, it needs to scale up services and, critically, invest in research.

A Fox News report explains that part of the challenge to global public health efforts is low quality medicine, which is a serious problem, especially in poor countries. Substandard medication that fails to meet quality requirements and flat out fake medication are both contributing factors to the high mortality rate of tuberculosis in these countries.

Other factors contributing to the high mortality rate of TB include drug-resistant forms of the disease, and low rates of detection.

3.3 percent of new patients were identified to have a particular strain of TB called multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB). People who contract MDR-TB cannot be treated with common drug treatments because the medications have no effect on the bacteria.

The WHO reports that 37.5 percent of newly contracted tuberculosis cases were either not diagnosed or not reported to health authorities. In a statement, the WHO said that “Of the 480,000 cases (of MDR-TB) estimated to have occurred in 2014, only about a quarter – 123,000 – were detected and reported to national authorities”.

MDR-TB can still be cured through alternative treatments, as the WHO reports a 75 percent cure rate if it is detected.

Dr. Mario Raviglione is the director of the WHO’s TB program. In an interview with Reuters, he said that although treatments for HIV, AIDS, and Tuberculosis have advanced in the past two decades, the death rate of TB remains “unacceptably high”, since it can be cured.

Interim medical director Dr. Grania Brigden of Doctors Without Borders hopes that the report will serve as a “wake-up call”, possibly leading to more resources being invested in order to combat the “ancient, yet curable disease”.


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