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Making progress on TB – battle far from being won

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TBToday, on World Tuberculosis (TB) Day I take the opportunity to put this issue in the spotlight. With modern antibiotics, TB is much less common in Europe nowadays than in the past, and usually treatable, if diagnosed in time, but in lower income countries it remains a deadly killer.

Globally, TB is a leading cause of death from an infectious disease worldwide, second only to AIDS. 1.3 million people die from it each year, and over 95 percent of those deaths occur in developing countries. It is also known as a disease of poverty, affecting mainly young adults in their most productive years.

However, there is also some good news. The estimated number of people falling ill with tuberculosis each year is slowly declining, which means that the world is on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goal to reverse the spread of TB by 2015. The European Commission provides support to partner countries so that they can build their own health systems in order to tackle diseases like TB.

In South Africa, for instance, we have implemented a €126 million programme to fight tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, by improving access and quality to healthcare services for most in need patients at district level.

The European Commission is also partnering with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in this work. In fact, the EU collectively is the biggest donor to the Global Fund  – providing about half of its funding. Thanks to this partnership, 11.2 million people have been diagnosed and received effective treatment and drugs so far.

We are fighting tuberculosis in other ways, too. The EU provides substantial funding – close to €200 million for clinical trials and health research through the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trial Partnership.

This way, we’re not just tackling the effects of these diseases, but the root causes, too.

Yet, in order to combat TB successfully, we now need to look at new and innovative ways of working. A greater collaboration with the private sector and emerging economies would help to reduce prices and improve access to treatment for the poorest. Furthermore, patients should be involved in the fight against tuberculosis, because they are the ones who know their disease the best.

Huge progress has already been made, but with millions of people still at risk of infection, the battle is far from being won. With just one year to go before the deadline for meeting the Millennium Development Goals, we have to continue working with the governments and civil society in our partner countries to ensure that the crucial services reach those who are most vulnerable to this disease. Let’s do all we can to work together on a final push and reverse the spread of this disease.

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