WHO: TB Rate Declining for the First Time, but Underfunding May Halt Progress

A laboratory technician tests for tuberculosis at a hospital in Somalia. The number of people falling ill with tuberculosis each year is declining for the first time, according to the World Health Organization. Photo by: © Siegfried Modola / MSF

The number of people falling ill with tuberculosis each year is declining for the first time, due largely to strong leadership and domestic financing, as well as substantial donor support, the World Health Organization reports. But the agency warns such progress is at risk from underfunding, particularly efforts to fight a drug-resistant form of the disease.

According to the WHO 2011 global tuberculosis control report, the share of domestic funding allocated for TB rose to 86 percent for 2012 globally. But total funding shortfall for TB implementation in 2012 is estimated at $1 billion. Most low-income countries still rely heavily on external funding.

Of the $1 billion funding gap, $200 million is for treating multidrug-resistant TB, a form of the disease that does not respond to standard first-line drugs. MDR-TB response remains one of the most underfunded areas in fighting TB. The WHO estimates that just 16 percent of MDR-TB patients have been treated in 2010.

TB is a significant killer in people with HIV. And the best progress has been reported in Kenya and Tanzania. Brazil has also reported a steady decline in cases. 

The number of people dying from the disease also fell to its lowest in a decade. China has made dramatic progress, falling by 80 percent between 1990 and 2010.

Overall, the death rate dropped 40 percent between 1990 and 2010. If this continues, all regions except Africa are on track to cut mortality 15 percent by 2015. 

Last December, WHO endorsed a new rapid test for tuberculosis, which is said to be “revolutionalizing” diagnosis of the disease. The new test provides an accurate diagnosis in about 100 minutes, compared with previous tests that can take up to three months.

However, for Mario Raviglione, director of WHO’s Stop TB Department, “… the promise of testing more people must be matched with the commitment to treat all detected. It would be a scandal to leave diagnosed patients without treatment.”

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About the author

  • Che de los Reyes

    As a senior staff writer, Che focuses on international development breaking news coverage as well as interviews and features. Prior to joining Devex, Che handled communications for local and international development NGOs and government institutions in the Philippines.