Global meeting on tuberculosis opens today

30 January 2012 - Bangkok - The 21st meeting of the Coordinating Board of the Stop TB Partnership opens today.

The Stop TB Partnership, which is hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, was founded in 2001. Its mission is to serve every person who is vulnerable to tuberculosis (TB) and ensure that high-quality treatment is available to all who need it.

"It is a great pleasure and honour for Thailand to be the venue of the 21st StopTB Partnership Coordinating Board Meeting, which is an important forum to mobilize efforts and resources towards elimination of TB, said Dr. Surawit Khonsomboon, Deputy Minister for Public Health of Thailand. "The fight against TB cannot be achieved without universal access to quality care for all TB patients. This means that we need to strengthen our services, which include rapid diagnosis, quicker treatment and effective vaccine management, to be more patient-friendly services."

TB is curable but untreated it is often fatal. In 2010 8.8 million people became ill with TB and 1.4 million people died from the disease.

"We are extremely grateful to the government of Thailand for hosting this important gathering and for working in such close partnership with us," said Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership. "We hope this event will help highlight both the impact of TB on the Thai people and the efforts the government is making to address the epidemic."

The Stop TB Partnership is recognized as a unique international body with the power to galvanize action in the fight against TB, working hand in hand with WHO and its partners all over the world. The Partnership's nearly 1000 partners include international and technical organizations, government programmes, research and funding agencies, foundations, NGOs, civil society, communities affected by TB and the private sector.

The Stop TB movement has spurred the creation of many national partnerships around the world. The Thailand Stop TB Partnership, founded in 2010, serves as a hub for local partners to collaborate and harmonize action with the National TB Programme.

Global progress on TB has been impressive. Since 1995, 46 million people have been successfully treated and up to 6.8 million lives saved through DOTS, a rigorous approach to treatment endorsed by WHO.

But many challenges remain. TB drugs have not changed for decades, and widespread drug resistance is making the disease more and more difficult to treat.

Basic diagnosis of TB has not changed for more than a century. New genetic tests for TB make it possible to rapidly identify people who need TB treatment, but there is no simple quick test of the sort already available for diseases like HIV and malaria. In addition there is no fully effective vaccine against TB.

In Thailand, as in many other countries around the world, HIV/AIDS is fuelling the TB epidemic, since people living with HIV are about 37 times more likely to develop TB than people free of HIV infection. Worldwide one in four TB deaths is HIV-related.

This week's meeting will set the tone for the work in 2012 of Stop TB partners worldwide as they move forward on achieving the goals of the Global Plan to Stop TB, the Partnership's roadmap for reducing by half deaths from TB, compared to 1990 levels, by 2015.