Five years after WHO declared tuberculosis a global emergency, the organisation yesterday identified 16 countries where progress has stalled or the situation is deteriorating which could threaten the rest of the world because of the emergence of drug resistant strains.
The infection already kills more people than Aids and malaria combined, yet it can be cured with a cocktail of cheap drugs. It is expected to infect nearly one billion more people between now and 2020, of whom 200 million will fall sick and 70 million will die - if control is not strengthened.
Two British specialists writing in the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases say cases of TB world-wide have risen 13 per cent since WHO declared its global emergency in 1993 and a "golden opportunity" to control the disease has been missed.
The 16 countries in South America, Africa, Russia, India and the Far East identified by WHO account for over half of the world's 7 million annual cases of TB. The fear is that the longer control efforts are delayed the more difficult the epidemic will become to contain.
Dr Carlyle Guerra de Macedo, former director of the Pan American Health Organisation, said: "If we allow TB to spread in any corner of the world, we do so at our own peril."
Tuberculosis is spread like the common cold through the air when infectious people cough, sneeze or talk. There are 6,000 cases annually in Britain and there have been outbreaks in New York and other cities.Reuse content