Washington, D.C. March 25, 2010 (PAHO) — Latin America and the Caribbean as a region have made impressive gains in the battle against tuberculosis in the last decade, reducing deaths and illnesses by some 70 percent.

Yet many individual countries need to expand their efforts if they are to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of cutting illnesses and deaths from TB in half by 2015.

"Thanks to effective control and treatment strategies, many of our countries are well on their way to meeting the Stop TB Partnership's goal of detecting 84 percent of existing TB cases and successfully treating 87 percent of these," noted Dr. Mirtha del Granado, the Pan American Health Organization's (PAHO) top expert on TB. "Others still have a way to go. On World TB Day, we're calling for innovation in our approaches to controlling and defeating TB."

To recognize and encourage such innovation, PAHO's TB program is honoring three people in Latin America whose innovations have made a valuable contribution to the fight against TB. They are:

  • Rita de Cássia Vieira Smith, founder and president of the Support Group for Patients and Former Patients with Tuberculosis (GAEXPA), based in Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She developed an innovative model of community involvement based on respect for the human rights of patients and communities affected by TB.
  • Dr. Lucia Barrera, chief of the Tuberculosis Laboratory at Argentina's National Institute of Infectious Diseases (INEI) and Malbran Institute, in Buenos Aires. She promoted the building of TB laboratory networks in countries and introduced innovations that improved the functioning of the Supranational Laboratory Network of the Americas. 
  • David Tunubalá, coordinator of prevention and promotion of the Indigenous Council of Guambía, in Cauca, Colombia. He developed an innovative model for prevention and treatment supervision based on community support in the Guambiano indigenous community.
In the Americas, TB control efforts are based on the World Health Organization's (WHO) Stop TB Strategy, which takes a comprehensive, patient-centered approach to the disease. The strategy stresses the importance of early diagnosis and treatment using DOTS (Directly Observed Therapy, Short-course) as well as the need to identify people or groups at highest risk of illness or death due to TB, including people co-infected with HIV or infected by drug-resistance strains of TB.

The strategy has helped reduce TB prevalence rates in Latin America and the Caribbean from 89 per 100,000 population in 1990 to 25 per 100,000 in 2008, and mortality rates from 10 to 3 per 100,000.
Despite this success at the regional level, the situation varies widely across countries.

Countries that have already met the MDG challenge of reducing TB deaths and illnesses by 50 percent include Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Peru. Others such as Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Uruguay, and Venezuela could still meet this goal by 2015 if they carry out sustained control efforts. A third group of countries-including Belize, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, and Suriname-face a more difficult challenge due to high HIV/AIDS rates that have also raised prevalence and mortality from TB.

Globally, the World Health Organization's recent report, Multidrug and Extensively Drug-Resistant TB (M/XDR-TB) confirms that MDR-TB and XDR-TB remain serious threats to global health. The total elimination of TB remains a distant goal unless new diagnostics, drugs and vaccines are brought to market, said Dr. Marcos A Espinal, of the Stop TB Partnership.

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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 quality of life of the people of the Americas and serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).

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