World Health Organization declares tuberculosis emergency in Africa

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Friday, August 26, 2005

Angolan eleven-year-old Joaquina Francisco - tuberculosis patient.

A World Health Organization (WHO) committee comprising of 43 African health ministers has declared a tuberculosis emergency on the continent.

The number of tuberculosis (TB) cases in African countries per year has quadrupled since 1990, and continues to rise. Now 540,000 people die of the disease in Africa every year.

Worldwide, TB kills two million people a year; the only deadlier disease in the world is HIV/AIDS.

Some African countries such as Tanzania and Malawi pioneered TB control strategies that were later adopted around the globe. But they were not successful - Malawi saw the number of TB cases a year rise by four times over the past 15 years. Poverty, poor health systems and HIV have been blamed by the WHO for this.

Funding is a particularly critical issue. Eight of the nine worst affected African countries reported that, for 2003, they had short-falls in the funding their TB control programmes needed. However the WHO stresses that money alone will not end the crisis - health systems must be improved, and the rate at which health professionals are lost in the region must be reduced.

Africa is the only region in the world to be experiencing an increase in TB cases - in the rest of the world, infection rates are either stable or falling.