Asian nations pledge campaign against twin disease threat

News release

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 20 February 2008—Health officials from nine Asian countries today undertook to step up efforts to curb the growing numbers of TB-HIV co-infections and deaths among TB patients infected with HIV.

The action came at a four-day meeting here of experts on the World Health Organization's revised strategy to control TB-HIV co-infection.

Based on the revised strategy, the countries, in cooperation with WHO, will focus on ways to:

  • improve collaboration between the national TB and AIDS programmes, including joint work planning;
  • increase the rates of HIV testing among TB patients and TB screening among HIV-infected persons;
  • increase coverage of TB prophylaxis and early access to antiretroviral therapy; and
  • improve infection control.

The participating countries at the meeting were Cambodia, China, Fiji, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Viet Nam.

Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death among people living with HIV worldwide. TB is a major problem in the Western Pacific Region, which accounts for about one third of the global TB burden, WHO said.

"HIV infection triggers reactivation of latent TB, but to this day, new TB patients have insufficient access to HIV testing, resulting in the late diagnosis of HIV co-infection," said Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "This contributes to very high case fatality rates of 25%-50% among new TB patients in the Western Pacific Region. If antiretroviral therapy is not provided, up to half of TB patients infected with HIV die during the course of their TB treatment."

Dr Omi said HIV testing should be made part of TB diagnosis. He also warned that low implementation levels of infection-control measures have been associated with multidrug-resistant TB and extensively drug-resistant TB in the HIV setting.

Although access to antiretroviral therapy has greatly expanded in the Western Pacific Region since 2004, HIV testing in TB patients and TB screening among people with HIV remain low. TB patients with HIV are more likely to die than TB patients who do not have HIV infection. People living with HIV who develop TB are 10 times more likely to die earlier than those who do not.

While TB and HIV/AIDS can be addressed through the efforts of two separate programmes focusing on each problem independently, WHO said that controlling two interlinked epidemics requires close collaboration to achieve a common objective.

For more information, please contact: Dr Pieter van Maaren, WHO Regional Adviser in Stop TB and Leprosy Elimination, at (63) 528 9707 or e-mail: vanmaarenp@wpro.who.int; Dr Massimo Ghidinelli, WHO Regional Adviser in HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases, at (63) 528 9714 or e-mail: ghidinellim@wpro.who.int

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