Africa: New UN-Backed Initiative Aims to Halve HIV-Associated Tuberculosis Deaths

A new United Nations-led initiative aimed at reducing HIV deaths caused by tuberculosis (TB) by half was launched today as part of a wider effort to accelerate the global fight against the highly fatal co-infection.

The agreement - between the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the Stop TB Partnership - will seek to achieve the 2015 goal of reducing deaths from TB among HIV patients by 50 per cent, or the equivalent of 600,000 lives.

"TB/HIV is a deadly combination. We can stop people from dying of HIV/TB co-infection through integration and simplification of HIV and TB services," UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé said in a press release.

At the 2011 UN High-Level Meeting on AIDS, Member States agreed on the ambitious objective of halving TB/HIV deaths by 2015, which also happens to be the target year for the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agenda.

As a result, preventative treatments would focus on the 10 countries which currently bear three-quarters of all TB/HIV fatalities: Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

"TB is preventable and curable at low cost, yet we still have one in four AIDS-related deaths caused by TB, and this is outrageous," Dr. Lucica Ditiu, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership, noted.

"Through a new agreement, UNAIDS and the Stop TB Partnership have committed to a strong agenda of action, engaging new partners and assisting the most heavily affected countries as they integrate their HIV and TB services and build action plans," she added.

However, despite increased access to antiretroviral therapy for patients and a consequent 13 per cent reduction in the numbers of TB-associated HIV deaths over the past two years, the pulmonary disease continues to remain the leading cause of death among HIV patients.

People living with HIV are 20 to 30 times more likely to develop active TB than people without HIV infections, with pregnant women and children particularly at risk. In 2011 alone, 25 per cent of all AIDS-related deaths were caused by HIV-associated TB disease.

Pointing to the task ahead, Mr. Sidibé urged the scaling up of services in affected countries through "concerted and joint efforts."

"The 2015 goals are clear," he added. "We can make this happen."

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