Rise in TB declared a global emergency

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THE World Health Organisation yesterday declared tuberculosis a global emergency which will claim 30 million lives within the next decade unless action is taken to halt its spread.

TB is the leading cause of death world-wide from a single infectious agent and three million people die from it each year, although drugs which cure it are readily available and cheap. Eight million people develop the disease annually.

Most cases are in developing countries but there has been an upsurge in the illness in industrialised countries, linked to the spread of Aids, increasing homelessness, drug misuse and poverty. These factors are largely responsible for renewed interest in Europe and America in a disease which many thought had been dealt with by modern medicine. The appearance of strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis which are resistant to several drugs is also causing concern.

In Britain, the decline stopped in the late 1980s - when incidence was about 6,000 cases a year. It is now running at 7,000 cases a year. There was a 12 per cent increase in the US between 1986 and 1991, a 28 per cent rise in Italy between 1988 and 1990, and and a 33 per cent rise in Switzerland between 1986 and 1990. All three countries have a high proportion of HIV-infected individuals.

Professor Richard Feacham, Dean of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said TB killed far more people than Aids, and equivalent money should be spent on research and prevention. He urged governments not to abandon school vaccination programmes.