Health officials in South Africa plan to bring in routine Tuberculosis tests for HIV patients as part of a new five year plan aiming to halve the number of cases.
HIV patients are at higher risk of developing TB because of their weakened immune systems. And because of its epidemic − South Africa has more people living with HIV than anywhere else in the world − the nation also has one of the world's highest TB rates.
The Global Plan to Stop TB 2011-2015, unveiled yesterday, will cost about £30 billion, with money poured into creating more testing labs and research to develop and deliver medicine to treat the disease.
"There is an urgent need to scale up action against TB - 10 million people, including 4 million women and children, will lose their lives unnecessarily between now and 2015 if we fail," says the World Health Organisation’s Dr Margaret Chan. "TB control works, with global incidence of the disease declining since 2004, although much too slowly."
By 2015, all South Africa’s TB patients should be automatically screened for HIV, said the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). Officials gathered in the country’s biggest city Johannesburg, yesterday called for global funding to help them develop a new treatment for TB patients who have become drug resistant. They said they are also testing four vaccines that they hope to released by 2015.
"There's a terrible link between HIV and TB," said UNAIDS’ Paul De Lay. "The epidemic here is much more severe than it would've been because of the HIV epidemic."
Mr De Lay said the new screening procedure could diagnose TB in HIV-positive patients earlier on, but warned that linking TB to HIV could put people off going for TB treatment because of the social stigma surrounding HIV.
The World Health Organization is also finalizing a test that diagnoses TB within hours instead of months. The test would be able to tell if someone has the disease and if it is a drug-resistant strain and would ‘revolutionize’ TB care, it said. The tests will be particularly effective in countries like South Africa where many people spread the lung disease before they are diagnosed and treated and where many patients don't return for follow-up doctor visits to get test results.
The WHO reported last year that South Africa had nearly 460,000 new TB cases in 2007.