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Eradicating Tuberculosis: The Next WHO Mission

Jul 05, 2014 01:17 PM EDT

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced today that it will be working with the European Respiratory Society (ERS) to eliminate tuberculosis (TB) in countries that do not yet experience the disease at epidemic levels.

The WHO and ERS outlined a new global strategy for fighting TB that will focus on taking preventative measures in countries with fewer than 100 cases per million people. The strategy, which will launch in 2016, will reportedly have these countries completely free of TB cases (outside of the occasional imported case) by 2035. The WHO has also declared that it hopes to have the bacterial infection entirely eradicated from the world by 2050.

This approach of targeting "low-burden" countries first was approved by the World Health Assembly last May, when representatives from major countries, the WHO, and the ESO gathered in Rome to discuss a new framework for the global effort against the spread of TB.

Mario Raviglione, director of WHO's Global TB Programme explained in a statement that focusing on low-burden countries first is expected to reduce the prevalence of TB in the world by a whopping 90 percent, significantly slowing the spread of the disease. If all goes well, by 2035 the world will be facing a much smaller and isolated epidemic, enabling the WHO to focus all of its resources on targeting the disease in remaining outbreak countries.

"Countries with a low incidence of TB are uniquely positioned to reach historically low levels of TB," said Raviglione. "They can serve as global trailblazers."

This plan comes in the wake of recent WHO efforts to slow the spread of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) - strains of tuberculosis that needs exceptionally rapid and early diagnoses, as they can resist the large majority of traditional antibiotics used to fight the disease.

"Powerful antibiotics and better living standards have almost pushed the disease out of many high-income countries. But we still have not succeeded. And if we do the wrong things now, TB could rebound, including with more drug-resistant forms," said G.B. Migliori from the ERS. "But if we get it right, and recommit to fighting the disease, both at home and abroad, TB will eventually no longer be a public health threat."

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