A Century of Fighting TB

World TB Day will be marked March 24 in various ways by the World Health Organization, national public health agencies, the Stop TB Partnership, and allied groups. A symposium that day presented by the partnership and other organizations has the title "World TB Day: The fight against tuberculosis: what's new in research?" and one has to wonder what Dr. Robert Koch would say if he presented a paper during the event.

World TB Day commemorates Koch's announcement on March 24, 1882, that he had discovered the TB bacillus that causes the disease. WHO says TB was raging in Europe and the Americas at that time, causing the deaths of one in every seven people, and Koch's discovery "opened the way towards diagnosing and curing TB."

Koch, a German, died in 1910. But TB has not been eradicated in the century since he accepted the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1905 for his discovery. In his Nobel Prize lecture, delivered on Dec. 12, 1905, Koch observed that most countries around the world by that time had begun campaigns to treat TB patients and combat the disease, and he said he expected these efforts would succeed. "We should not close our eyes to the fact that the fight against tuberculosis needs quite considerable financial resources. Basically it is only a question of money," Koch said.

Today, TB remains an epidemic in much of the world, kills millions of people annually, and has infected about one-third of the world's entire population, according to WHO, which is working to halve TB prevalence rates and deaths by 2015. WHO says 9.4 million people became sick with TB and 1.7 million died of it in 2009 alone.

Dr. Lucica Ditiu, executive secretary of the Stop TB PartnershipDr. Lucica Ditiu, 42, a former WHO medical officer for TB in eastern Europe, became executive secretary of the Stop TB Partnership on Jan. 19, 2011. The partnership, which is hosted by WHO in Geneva, consists of more than 1,200 international organizations, countries, donors from the public and private sectors, and nongovernmental and governmental organizations that are cooperating to eliminate TB by 2050.

Two months ago, WHO endorsed a new, rapid test for TB that it hopes will be especially useful in developing countries hit hard by the disease. It can provide an accurate diagnosis in about 100 minutes, far faster than current tests, where the patient's results may take as long as three months.

"This new test represents a major milestone for global TB diagnosis and care. It also represents new hope for the millions of people who are at the highest risk of TB and drug-resistant disease," said Dr. Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO Stop TB Department. "We have the scientific evidence, we have defined the policy, and now we aim to support implementation for impact in countries." The test is an automated nucleic acid amplification test that has been field-tested for effectiveness in the early diagnosis of TB, multidrug-resistant TB, and TB complicated by HIV infection, which are more difficult to diagnose.

Posted by Jerry Laws on Feb 21, 2011

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