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Asian nations face deadly TB-HIV threat-WHO
By Michael Perry
Fri Sep 23,10:30 AM ET - Reuters
Drug resistance combined with a deadly double infection of tuberculosis and HIV is posing a serious threat in Cambodia, Vietnam, China and the Philippines, said the World Health Organization.
The WHO said tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in HIV-AIDS patients in the Asia-Pacific region and growing resistance to a variety of drugs is fuelling a rise in cases.
Tuberculosis is a bacterial disease that mostly attacks the lungs. It is an opportunistic infection that once contracted by a HIV patient sees each disease speed the progress of the other.
In the Western Pacific, which stretches from China to Fiji, more than 1.5 million people were living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2004 and about 120,000 people are expected to die of AIDS in 2005, said a WHO report on tuberculosis and HIV-AIDS.
People with HIV are up to 50 times more likely to develop tuberculosis (TB).
"HIV and TB are the leading killers among the infectious diseases today and together they form a deadly partnership," said the report released on Friday at a WHO conference in Noumea, capital of New Caledonia in the South Pacific.
"In the region, TB-HIV has not reached epidemic proportions but is already serious in some areas," it said.
The Asia-Pacific region accounts for a third of global TB cases, with China, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines representing 80 percent of the region's tuberculosis, said the U.N. health body.
The WHO estimates tuberculosis is spreading globally at a rate of one person per second. Every year eight to 10 million people contract the disease and two million die, it said.
The WHO said a global target of reducing tuberculosis prevalence and deaths by half from 1999 to 2010 was in jeopardy because of a rise in TB-HIV, warning tuberculosis deaths could rise significantly unless the fight against TB-HIV was intensified.
"TB-HIV co-infection threatens to reverse the steady progress toward achieving this goal," said Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.
The WHO said greater surveillance of the deadly co-infection and better access to medicines in developing countries was required to stem the spread of tuberculosis and reduce the death rate.
WHO's Western Pacific regional adviser on tuberculosis, Dr Dongil Ahn, said the emergence of multi-drug resistant (MDR) tuberculosis, particularly in China and Mongolia, was making the fight against the disease more difficult.
Ahn said that in three of the Chinese provinces where MDR surveys were undertaken, up to 10 percent of new patients were due to MDR. In Mongolia, around 18 percent of prisoners with TB had multi-drug resistance.
"It is very hard to treat and the cost of TB medication for MDR is very high, about 100 times the cost of medicine for ordinary TB," Ahn said.
The cost of treating ordinary tuberculosis is about $240 a year, compared with $1,500 to $2,000 for MDR/TB, he said.