March 15, 1999

MSF Fights Tuberculosis, World's Top Infectious Killer

New York, March 16, 1999 — Tuberculosis (TB) kills more adults than any other infectious disease. Responsible for more deaths than AIDS, malaria, and other tropical diseases combined, TB kills 50,000 people each week.

On World TB Day (March 24, 1999) Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is calling attention to the worldwide growth of the disease. Although the number of new TB cases in New York City has declined by 55 percent since 1992, the disease is spreading rapidly in the developing world and in countries whose health care systems have broken down. At current rates of growth in Russia, for example, by the year 2010, at least 2 million people will have a form of TB that is resistant to the drugs available to treat it.

TB feeds on poverty and war. The TB bacilli develop and spread easily among weakened and malnourished populations with inadequate shelter and sanitation. Where health systems have been destroyed by conflicts or economic crises, the sick are often left without access to care. Symptoms include prolonged cough, hemoptysis, chest pain, and a general deterioration of health The disease can be highly contagious and fatal if untreated. The best way to stop an epidemic is to implement the World Health Organization's DOTS* protocols, which require that patients are observed while taking their medicine to ensure that the entire regimen is completed. But unfortunately most developing countries lack adequate medicines and staff to systematically implement these protocols.

MSF Treats TB Around the World

MSF runs specific TB programs in 13 countries and treats TB in many more. In Russia, the source of the epidemic is the overcrowded prison system, which serves as a breeding ground for the disease. Incomplete or inconsistent treatment has led to forms of the disease that do not respond to the available drugs. MSF is implementing the DOTS program with prisoners in Siberia, to cure them and prevent the disease from spreading to the general population.

In Ghazni, Afghanistan, MSF is working to improve the nutritional status of mothers and children and operates a TB project that serves 120 people at a time. As in many parts of the world, the Nyanza province of western Kenya is facing an increase in TB associated with the spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. MSF operates a TB program in the district hospital and in six peripheral health centers, which serve a population of five million. MSF conducts prevention education and carries out blood safety program in the hospital to reduce transmission through blood transfusion. In the Jijiga region of Ethiopia, MSF runs a TB treatment program that has enrolled 1,110 people since it opened last year.

*Directly Observed Treatment Short-Course