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TB epidemic growing, warns global body

Africa faces a US $400 million shortfall in the fight to curb the growing tuberculosis (TB) epidemic that kills more than half a million people each year, the global NGO, Stop TB Partnership, warned on Wednesday.

It said $1.1 billion was needed over the next two years to reverse the death toll, which was currently increasing by five percent a year. The disease is the second biggest killer of adults in Africa.

"Africa is the only part of the world where tuberculosis control is not improving," Luis Gomes Sambo, regional director for Africa for the UN
World Health Organization (WHO), said.

"Tuberculosis is one of the key public health issues in Africa," he told journalists at the end of a two-day summit on an emergency action plan to fight TB, held in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

The partnership is made up of over 300 organisations, including WHO, UNAIDS, the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development.

Sambo said African governments were failing to fully address TB - often leaving it out of anti-poverty strategies. However, according to a joint report of the UN and the African Union, TB accounts for four to seven percent of expenditure from the Gross Domestic Product of highly infected countries.

Of the 15 countries in the world with the highest TB rates, 13 of them are in Africa. Each year the disease infects 2.4 million Africans.

Sambo said that weak health systems on the continent were hampering the fight. He added that relevant technology to fight TB and a lack of skilled manpower also undermined the battle against the disease.

"To improve the care of people living with TB we need to improve the capacity of health systems to deliver the relevant care," he noted.

"Most African governments are working on TB, but they are not doing enough as required [because] they are constrained by the coverage of health service," Sambo added.

TB is highly contagious but easily curable. It is estimated that half of TB sufferers in Africa also have HIV, and TB causes almost half of all HIV/AIDS related deaths.

Sambo said WHO was expected to recommend to African health ministers in August in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, to make TB an emergency on the continent.

A plan endorsed in Ethiopia urges African governments to "mainstream" TB in health agendas and strengthen health systems. It calls for greater involvement by NGOs and the private sector in the fight against the epidemic.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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