Don't forget the killer diseases, experts urge

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A young girl visits her mother, a tuberculosis patient, at the Sanatora Do Huambo hospital in the southern Angolan city of Huambo July 2, 2006. While every human death from bird flu commands widespread attention, some experts are urging the world not to forget killer diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, which claim millions of lives each year. REUTERS'Wayne Conradie (Reuters)by Tan Ee Lyn, 4 Oct 2006

HONG KONG (Reuters) - While every human death from bird flu commands widespread attention, some experts are urging the world not to forget killer diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS, which claim millions of lives each year.

More effort must be put into preventing these diseases, and vaccines -- once they are ready -- must be made available to the poorest nations, which suffer most from these illnesses.

"Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS are high up in terms of infectious diseases. We tend to forget childhood diarrhea and respiratory infections, they are very important," said Georg Petersen, World Health Organization's representative in Indonesia.

Among infectious diseases, tuberculosis tops the list for some experts. One person in the world is newly infected with the TB bacteria every second and currently, a third of the world's population is infected with the TB bacilli.<

But not everyone who is infected with TB gets sick. Chances of falling ill with TB happens when one's immune system is weak, and as such, it correlates closely with HIV.


In 2004, TB killed about 1.7 million people. Of these, 587,000 deaths occurred in Africa and 535,000 in Southeast Asia, according to the WHO.

While mortality has fallen 12 percent since 2000, the WHO has pledged to cut by half the number of TB deaths by 2010 through better case detection and fighting TB-HIV co-infection.

HIV/AIDS, diarrhea, respiratory infections and dengue also figure highly. diarrhea kills 2.2 million people a year and more than 3 million deaths were attributed to AIDS in 2004.

BIRD FLU A DISTRACTION?

Tony Nelson, a pediatrics professor at Chinese University in Hong Kong, fears that bird flu -- which has killed at least 144 people worldwide since late 2003 -- is taking too much attention away from other very pressing diseases.

Many health experts fear the H5N1 bird flu virus might mutate and pass easily among people, triggering a pandemic that could kill millions worldwide.

"Things like SARS, avian flu are high-profile and get a lot of media attention but in terms of global deaths, it is a small percentage. The reason why we are afraid of bird flu is because it affects us personally in the rich world," Nelson said.

"If you are a policymaker in a rich country, you don't really worry about rotavirus because it is viewed as relatively mild," he said, referring to the leading cause of diarrhea in infants and young children, killing 500,000 of them a year.

These deaths occur mostly in poor and developing countries, where health services are not always accessible.

Experts called for vaccines against these common but life-threatening diseases to be made available to the poorest, noting that vaccines against hepatitis B, which were sold in advanced countries by the early 1980s, did not reach the poorest nations which needed them most until about 20 years later.

"We need to find financing mechanisms to provide vaccines to the poorer countries, so that every child would have an opportunity to have these essential vaccines," Nelson said.

Measles kills hundreds of thousands of children every year, Nelson said.

"Yet, there has been a good vaccine that has been available for a long time. But in the poorest countries, the vaccine is just not getting to these children who need it," he added.

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This page contains a single entry by ID Admin published on October 5, 2006 3:32 PM.

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