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More Efforts To Fight Tuberculosis in the Americas

Stepped-Up Efforts Pledged To Fight Tuberculosis in the Americas

Ten countries identified by experts as priority areas for fighting TB

By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Health experts in the Western Hemisphere have pledged stepped-up efforts to fight tuberculosis (TB) in the region and to ensure that the number of cases of the infectious disease continues to decline.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said in a September 2 statement that the health experts meeting the previous week in Quito, Ecuador, identified 10 "priority countries" in the Americas for fighting TB. Those countries are: Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Peru and the Dominican Republic.

The health experts also said Colombia should be added to the existing list of priority countries because efforts to control TB need to be expanded in that country.

TB, which kills 5,000 people worldwide every day, typically affects the lungs, but also can occur in other organs.

Mirtha del Granado, regional adviser for PAHO's TB program, said the Quito meeting showed the commitment of Latin American governments and partners in the fight against tuberculosis to achieve the targets established by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Those targets include the call for halting and reversing the world incidence of TB, malaria and other major diseases.

The experts in Quito pointed to the United Nations' recommended strategy for fighting TB, called "DOTS" (directly observed treatment -- short course). That strategy includes a "political commitment" for the control of TB, regular and uninterrupted supply of high-quality anti-TB drugs, six to eight months of strictly supervised treatment and creation of reporting systems to monitor treatment progress and program performance.

The strict vigilance of people taking their medicine against TB is an essential element of the DOTS strategy, said PAHO.

PAHO said that since 2003, the DOTS strategy has been expanded to cover 80 percent of the population of the Americas. According to PAHO, this expansion of DOTS represents the "strongest indicator" of the growing political commitment to the region's fight against TB.

Contrary to the situation in Africa, where the United Nations recently declared a tuberculosis emergency, the Americas has seen a sustained reduction in the prevalence of TB over the last 10 years, said PAHO. It said that since the DOTS strategy was put into action in the Americas in 1993, more than 2 million cases of TB have been diagnosed, including 1 million highly contagious cases.

UNITED STATES SUPPORTING FIGHT AGAINST TUBERCULOSIS

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) says its TB programs in the Americas have contributed directly to important advances in detection and cure rates for the disease.

In Honduras, for example, USAID said its TB program has contributed to substantial improvements in the Central American nation's ability to implement the DOTS strategy.

USAID has provided DOTS training in Honduras for more than 7,200 doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians and other personnel, and has purchased microscopes to improve diagnostic capacity. As a result of USAID support and resources, the Honduran Ministry of Health has committed to extending DOTS to the entire country.

Additional information on USAID’s TB program is available at the USAID Web site.

In addition, the United States is a prime supporter of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The Global Fund -- a partnership among governments, civil society, the private sector and affected communities -- provides resources to prevent and treat AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria around the world. More information about the Global Fund is available on the fund Web site.

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