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World Tuberculosis Day 2004 Page

Every year 220,000 new cases of tuberculosis are recorded in the Americas

Washington, DC, March 23, 2004 (PAHO)—In the Americas 220,000 new cases of tuberculosis are recorded every year, and it is estimated that more than 50,000 people die because of this disease, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

On World Tuberculosis Day, observed tomorrow, PAHO experts stress that tuberculosis is treatable and curable, but community participation and commitments at every level are needed to control the disease.

TB is a contagious disease. Like the common cold, it spreads through the air. Only people who are sick with pulmonary TB are infectious. When infectious people cough, sneeze, talk or spit, they propel TB germs, known as bacilli, into the air. A person needs only to inhale a small number of these to be infected.

PAHO is working to defeat TB throughout the Americas, according to Dr. Pilar Ramón, who heads the Organization's tuberculosis program. She said the disease "does not recognize age, sex, race, or status, but it is associated with poverty, since the most disadvantaged people are more vulnerable."

Ramón stressed that the entire community needs to participate actively in the fight against tuberculosis. "People should be alert and if a family member or friend has a cough with expectoration for more than 15 days, they should recommend going to see a physician," she said.

The slogan "Every breath counts. Stop tuberculosis now!" aims to transmit a sense of urgency to the global movement to fight tuberculosis, accelerate efforts to reach the 2005 goals, and to build commitment to fight the disease. The global 2005 targets for TB control are to detect 70 percent of all infectious TB cases and cure 85 percent of the cases detected. Meeting the 2005 targets will put the world's TB control programs on the path to achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the global TB burden by 2015.

When the presence of the bacillus that causes the disease is confirmed, the affected person should take medicaments for a six-month period without interrupting the treatment, even if they start to feel better and no longer present the initial symptoms, Ramon noted.

In the region of the Americas, diagnosis and treatment of TB should not cost patients anything. There are drugs that cure the disease, but if the person is not treated the infection can be fatal, she said.

In a recent report on tuberculosis and resistance to antibiotics, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that research and development of new drugs is an urgent need, so the duration of the treatment can be shortened and the strains that are resistant treated. After a stagnation of 40 years in the development of new tuberculosis drugs, investments in research and development are key to expand treatment options and overcome the resistant strains. A partnership between public and private entities is working to develop new drugs against tuberculosis.

Globally, the number of tuberculosis patients diagnosed and treated under DOTS, the internationally recommended strategy for TB control, is now rising much faster than at any time since DOTS expansion began in 1995, according to a new report by WHO, with three million TB patients treated every year, an increase of more than one million patients compared to just two years ago. But more than 8 million people still get TB every year and 2 million die of TB.

PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world’s oldest public health organization. It works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and living standards of their peoples, and serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization.

For more information, video material, or photographs please contact: Daniel Epstein, Office of Public Information, (202) 974-3459, e-mail: epsteind@paho.org.