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The global burden of Tuberculosis


Along with malaria and aids, tuberculosis bacterium (TB) is one of the three diseases closely linked to poverty. Not only that, but tuberculosis bacterium effects one third of the world's population. TB is an airborne infectious disease that is preventable and curable.

The British paper The Telegraph reveals that more than two billion people, or a third of the world's total population, are infected with mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria which causes tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis is the world's seventh-leading cause of death. Last year, it killed 1.8 million people worldwide, the equivalent of a person every 20 seconds.

TB is contagious and spreads through the air. If it's not treated, each person with active TB infects an average of 10 to 15 people per year.


Of the countries who suffer with the disease, India is the one with the biggest burden, closely followed by China. But China is facing a significant uphill battle against drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis.

Drug-resistant TB, which is far more expensive to treat, emerges when patients fail to follow treatment regimens and take substandard drugs or stop treatment too early.

China has 4.5 million TB cases currently; and each year 1.4 million people fall ill with the disease. TB killed 160,000 people in China in 2008, according to the World Health Organization, Reuters reports.

It is not only a scourge in poor countries but also in the West, where it has flared anew in the last 20 years because of AIDS, which weakens the immune system.

TB is also a big drain on China's health budget because of a high incidence of people with a drug-resistant strain of the disease, which is a lot harder and more expensive to treat.

Regular TB costs 1000 yuan to treat in China but drug-resistant TB ranges from 100,000 to 300,000 yuan per person, said Zhong Qiu of China's TB Expert Consultative Committee.

China ranks second in the world with 112,000 drug-resistant TB cases in 2007, after India with 131,000. Russia has 43,000 cases, while South Africa has 16,000 and Bangladesh 15,000.

Spending and funding

China spent US$225 million on tackling TB in 2008, up from US$98 million in 2002, according to WHO. These figures do not take into account what patients pay out of their pockets, typically between 47 and 62 percent of their hospital bills.

Funding for TB control has increased since 2002, and is expected to reach US$4.1 billion in 2010. Funding gaps remain, however; compared with the Global Plan, funding gaps amount to at least US$2.1 billion in 2010.

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