WHO urges Member States to accelerate fight against TB

News release

The World Health Organization (WHO) in the Western Pacific marks World TB Day on 24 March with a call to Member States to accelerate the fight against tuberculosis.

"Despite successes, the TB burden in the Western Pacific remains unacceptably high with more than 1.3 million people diagnosed and 260 000 deaths each year," said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "Countries need to strengthen their health systems to prevent the development and spread of tuberculosis (TB), especially multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB)."

Worldwide, tuberculosis is the second top infectious killer. In 2011, 8.4 million people contracted and 1.4 million died of the disease. Twenty-two countries carry 80% of the burden of TB, and four of those are in the Western Pacific Region – Cambodia, China, the Philippines and Viet Nam.

The TB death rate in the Region has fallen by 63% since 1990, and the number of deaths is also declining. Nevertheless, major challenges threaten to derail efforts to control and eliminate tuberculosis in the Region:

  • Many cases remain undiagnosed as the current level of case detection is insufficient to cut the chain of transmission.
  • TB-HIV co-infections proliferate among people with HIV, with TB as a major cause of death.
  • The emergence and spread of multidrug-resistant TB makes TB control more complex and demanding as second-line drugs for MDR-TB are more costly than first-line drugs and treatment takes up to two years with more severe drug reactions.

The Western Pacific Region has an estimated 77 000 cases of MDR-TB each year, or about 27% of the world's MDR-TB burden. MDR-TB develops as a result of poor treatment practices – wrong prescriptions, irregular intake of medicines or use of substandard drugs by TB patients.

Laboratory capacity in some countries hit hard by the disease remains inadequate for early TB diagnosis and effective response to MDR-TB and TB-HIV co-infection. The situation is worsened by the fact that TB often affects the poorest and most marginalized populations, who often have limited access to healthcare.

However, new tools are being deployed against this age-old disease:

  • Twenty-six countries in the Region are now using Xpert MTB/RIF, a rapid molecular test that accurately diagnoses TB and MDR-TB in 100 minutes.
  • "Point-of-care" tests are in the pipeline, with 10 TB drugs in trials and 10 vaccine candidates for TB.
  • Active case-finding tools are being pushed, which are cost effective strategies for increasing case detection among high-risk and vulnerable groups.

World TB Day 2012 in the Western Pacific focuses on children with the slogan, "I want a world free of TB".

"The more TB cases that are properly diagnosed and treated, the more we can protect our children," Dr Shin says.

For more information, please contact:

Dr Catharina Van Weezenbeek
Team Leader
Stop TB and Leprosy
Tel: +63 2 528 9705

Mr Timothy O'Leary
Public Information Officer
Tel: +63 2 528 9991
Mobile: +63 (0)918 918 1094