TB Facts and Figures

Fact sheet
23 March 2005

The Situation

Tuberculosis is one of man's deadly diseases. It has probably killed more people than any other disease in history. And it still kills. In WHO's Western Pacific Region, TB is the leading infectious killer, causing some 1000 deaths a day, far more than AIDS. The tragedy is that a cure has been available for more than 50 years.

In the 1980s, poverty, poor living conditions, HIV/AIDS and sheer neglect led to a resurgence of TB. Moreover, a type of TB resistant to standard drugs emerged, which could, if left unchecked, make TB impossible to control.

The 1990s saw a concerted effort to reverse the epidemic. Global targets were set for TB control. If countries meet these targets, TB may finally be conquered in the 21st century.

The Infection

TB spreads through air, just like the common cold. When an infectious person sneezes, coughs or even talks, TB germs - known as bacilli - enter the air. The bacilli can remain in the air for six hours and are a particular threat in crowded and poorly ventilated areas. Left untreated, a person with TB can infect an average of 10 and 15 people per year.

Fast Facts

  • Every minute, roughly four people die of TB and 15 others newly develop the disease worldwide.
  • TB accounts for one in four preventable adult deaths.
  • Half of all TB cases are not detected in the Western Pacific Region.
  • Untreated, a TB patient can infect 10 to 15 others, simply by coughing.
  • A full course of TB treatment costs as little as US$ 15.
  • TB is the main cause of death among people with HIV/AIDS in the Region.
  • More people die of TB in one day in the Western Pacific Region than all global deaths reported from SARS.
  • Some 4.5 million people develop TB annually across Asia.
  • Without control, an estimated one billion more people will be newly infected, 200 million people will get sick and 35 million people will die by 2020.

The Illness

Although a third of the world's population is infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, only one in 10 get active TB. Physical stress, old age and HIV/AIDS can increase the likelihood of developing active TB, which usually affects the lungs. Symptoms of TB typically include weight loss, night sweats, fever and cough.

The Statistics

Every year, a total of 100 million people get infected with the TB bacilli worldwide, some 8 million develop active (infectious) TB and 2 million die. Asia has the heaviest burden of TB in case numbers - India has 1.8 million new cases a year, followed by China with 1.4 million cases.

The Solution

The basis for TB control is DOTS. Recommended by WHO, DOTS is highly effective in treating TB and preventing infection and drug resistance. The strategy encourages completion of a six-month drug regimen by providing drugs free and observing patients taking drugs for two months. Since 1999, DOTS has cured three million people in the Region.

The Targets

Global targets were set for TB control this decade. Countries in the Region agreed to meet these targets for 2005:

  • provide 100% access to DOTS
  • detect 70% of all infectious cases; and
  • cure at least 85% of those detected.

The challenging target is case detection, with only half of cases detected in 2003.

The Issues

Key issues in WHO's Western Pacific Region are:

  • Case detection - The Region's case detection rate was 52% in 2003. Improving it will require extending DOTS coverage, improving laboratory services, building links with the private sector, addressing the poor's needs, improving awareness of TB and identifying HIV patients with TB.
  • HIV/AIDS - HIV/AIDS and TB form a deadly combination. Most people with HIV/AIDS in the Region die of TB. And AIDS is partly responsible for the global incraese in TB cases.
  • Drug Resistance - This form of TB, caused by inconsistent or partial treatment, is difficult and costly to treat, costing as much as US$ 10 000 per case in developing countries. The problem is a serious threat to TB control.
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