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Health & Families

Tuberculosis levels off with progress in China, India: WHO

The World Health Organisation said on Thursday that the number of cases of tuberculosis worldwide had levelled off last year, with lifesaving inroads against the disease especially in China and India.

An estimated 9.4 million people contracted the disease in 2009, the same number as the previous year, the WHO's annual report, "Global Tuberculosis Control 2010" found.

The WHO said the incidence of tuberculosis was stable or falling in all 22 countries with the highest burden of the infectious disease except South Africa.

However, it warned that despite significant and lasting improvements in the quality of TB care since 1995, especially in poor countries, overall progress is still far too fragile.

"There are still 1.7 million deaths a year from a disease that is perfectly curable in 2010," said Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO's Stop TB unit.

"At this pace it will take millennia to get rid of TB," he told journalists.

The global death rate has declined by 35 percent since 1990, with six million lives being saved a year compared to 1995, while detection of tuberculosis was improving, according to the report.

The report showed that when the best practices were put in place with proper funding and government commitment, "then the tide in the epidemic can turn," Raviglione added.

He highlighted the experience of India, the hardest hit country with an estimated two million cases of the infectious disease a year.

"India is the country that has seen the most spectacular increase in doing the rights things in TB control," Raviglione said, pointing to a shift from sparse detection and treatment 10 years ago to nationwide coverage today.

Death rates in China have been halved over the past decade, as well as in Brazil and Cambodia compared to 1990.

But the WHO emphasised that some of the most populous countries also faced "the biggest challenge of them all," an estimated 440,000 multidrug resistant (MDR) strains of tuberculosis a year which are both hard to detect and to treat.

"The main issue is in Russia, China and India where most of the global (MDR) burden lies and this is where we expect great progress in the future," said Raviglione.

In India about 1,000 cases of MDR tuberculosis are uncovered every year, compared to an estimated total of 100,000 such cases in the country. The global detection rate is about five percent.