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Women and girls central to fight against TB

Women and girls will be at the centre of UK efforts to halve Tuberculosis deaths by 2015, the government says on World TB Day today.

Focussing the UK's development work on women and girls was among a raft of TB fighting measures announced by the International Development Minister.

Every year, 9 million people get TB. And every year nearly 2 million people die from the disease. Nearly 10 per cent of TB cases are in people living with HIV, for whom TB is particularly dangerous and a leading cause of death.

Tuberculosis is also one of the three top killers of women of childbearing age worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation. The other two are Aids and pregnancy or birth related deaths.

We need to make still greater progress against HIV and TB co-infection and the double cruelty it can represent,” said development minister, Stephen O'Brien.

The UK's other measures announced to tackle the disease include putting more money into research, especially into vaccines that are safe for people with HIV. Strengthening health systems in poorer countries and improving the underlying poverty levels that put people at greater risk of TB infection were also listed.

TB is an infectious bacterial disease which mostly affects the lungs. It is carried from person to person through droplets from the throat and lungs of people with the disease. The symptoms of active TB of the lung are coughing, sometimes with sputum or blood, chest pains, weakness, weight loss and fever. It can be treated with a six-month course of antibiotics.

Today, 24 March marks the day in 1882 when Dr Robert Koch announced that he had discovered the cause of tuberculosis, the TB bacillus. At the time of Koch's announcement in Berlin, TB was raging through Europe and the Americas, causing one in seven deaths. Koch's discovery opened the way towards diagnosing and curing TB.

In the past 20 years, there has been great progress in fighting TB. Milestones include a 35 per cent fall in TB deaths since 1990, and the development of new technologies which are better at detecting multi drug resistant TB.

Even so, TB is still a major health threat, said  the US Agency for International Development, USAID's Dr Rajiv Shah.

"In a world that is urbanizing at a rate of 200,000 every day, we must be aggressive and innovative in fighting TB,” he said.
"Large numbers of TB cases go undetected and untreated, fuelling new cases and deaths. The frightening growth of drug-resistant strains of TB—including strains we simply cannot yet treat—adds to the urgency of combating this disease."

Hayley attribution