WHO takes on Tuberculosis

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BERLIN: The World Health Organization announced the number of tuberculosis cases worldwide has leveled off for the first time in decades thanks to a new treatment plan which trains health care workers to make sure patients take their medicine. But the organization warned the skyrocketing number of TB cases in former Soviet bloc countries could afflict Western Europe and possibly the rest of the world if the plan is not vigorously applied there. The treatment strategy, known as DOTS -- Directly Observed Treatment, Short-course -- simply instructs medical workers, teachers and others to observe TB patients more closely in order to prevent them from terminating their treatment plans prematurely. WHO officials estimate that full adoption of DOTS could slash the number of TB cases in Eastern Europe by half over the next decade and save up to 10 million lives. Furthermore, the organization said most countries could adopt the method at little additional cost to existing treatment strategies. Normally, TB medications must be taken for at least six months to be effective. But in many poor countries, people tend to stop taking the drugs the moment they feel better or to save money. This puts the rest of the world at risk by allowing stronger TB strains which weathered the initial stage of treatment to reproduce. The problem in Eastern Europe has in part been fueled by severe economic hardship since the collapse of Soviet communism in 1991. Since that year, Russia has experienced a 70 percent rise in TB cases and a 90 percent increase in TB deaths. While Western Europe currently lies on the front of a bitter outbreak the disease, WHO officials warn that in the age of jet travel, the entire world may be at risk. "Everyone who breathes air, from Wall Street to the Great Wall of China, needs to worry about this risk," a WHO official said. To prevent this scenario, the organization made a pitch for and additional $100 million in foreign aid.