Message of the Regional Director on the Occasion of World Tuberculosis Day 2008

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THEME: “I AM STOPPING TB”

Today, 24 March, is World TB Day. It is a day when we remember the momentous discovery of the tuberculosis bacillus by Robert Koch in 1886. This was a discovery that brought hope for the eventual containment of the disease that until then was untreatable. Indeed, effective treatment became available not too long after, and it is now widely available throughout the world.

Unfortunately, over 120 years later, TB remains a major public health problem in the world, and the African Region contributes about 25% of all TB cases every year though accounting for 11% of the world population. Member States affirm African leadership in addressing priority health problems, including TB, and the directly-observed treatment short-course control programmes are being implemented in all countries. However, notified TB cases have continued to increase. During 2006, over 1.3 million TB cases were notified in the African Region compared to 1.1 million cases in 2005. Increases were particularly noted in countries where HIV prevalence is high.

Considering the World Health Assembly global targets for TB control in the Region, 10 countries have attained the 70% case detection rate and 8 have attained the 85% treatment success rate. Only one Member State attained both targets.

The WHO Regional Committee for Africa passed a resolution declaring TB an emergency and also adopted a regional strategy for the control of the dual epidemic of TB and HIV/AIDS. The resolution calls for accelerated DOTS expansion, and improved case detection and cure rates. The strategy aims to promote the scaling up of joint TB/HIV interventions as part of routine care for patients with either disease.  It is gratifying that screening for HIV among TB cases has almost doubled from 141 000 in 2005 to 289 000 in 2006; 75% screening has been achieved in a few countries in the African Region.

Although the true burden of drug-resistant TB in the Region largely remains unknown, cases have been identified wherever surveys have been undertaken. Reports from 39 countries in 2007 confirmed existence of 5990 multidrug-resistant TB cases in 22 countries and 395 extensively drug-resistant TB cases in 4 countries. Many others may be passing undetected due to lack of diagnostic capacity in many countries.

The slogan for this year’s World TB Day is “I am Stopping TB”. The slogan emphasizes the fact that everyone can do something to stop the spread of TB and that every individual’s action counts. It also underlines the collective responsibility of all individuals and Member States as part of the world community to bring TB under control. The first action should be to encourage those persons with cough lasting 3 weeks or more to seek medical attention.

The Regional Office will continue to collaborate with regional and international partners to provide technical support to countries to promote and ensure the scaling up of effective TB control interventions. Such efforts will reduce suffering and death from an old, prevailing disease that is curable.

I am stopping TB, are you?