Geneva — The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria have just signed a grant agreement to fund universal treatment for tuberculosis (TB) in Niger, a country with one of the worst rates of TB in West Africa.
A new two-year Global Fund grant of 10 million euros will allow the population of Niger, estimated at around 17 million, to access quality TB diagnosis and treatment services. The grant will expand and enhance TB services for more than 26,000 people in 200 treatment centres by 2015, targeting vulnerable populations, including those in nomadic communities, migrant groups and prisons.
TB is a major global health concern, killing 1.3 million people every year and infecting a further 8.6 million, despite being an entirely preventable and curable disease. In Niger, while overall numbers of people with TB have fallen in recent years, incidence of the disease is still high. The vast majority of TB cases can be easily cured when medicines are provided and taken as prescribed.
"Access to sustainable diagnosis and treatment services is a burning priority in a country like Niger, where a lack of predictable funding, sustained technical support and health care workers have seriously undermined the government's capacity to regularly provide quality TB services and distribute drugs," said Bekele Geleta, Secretary General, IFRC. "With support from the Global Fund, we will be able to ensure access to treatment for people living in the most underprivileged areas, especially those facing discrimination and living on the margins of society."
In Niger, despite a high degree of political commitment and local ownership of the TB response, the disease is putting a heavy strain on an already overburdened health system. Treatment can take up to six months and requires extensive supervision and patient support by a health worker or trained volunteer. Without this, treatment adherence can be difficult and the disease can spread further.
"This grant will support and strengthen existing in-country capacities, working closely with the National Tuberculosis Program of the Ministry of Health," said Mark Dybul, Executive Director of the Global Fund. "The IFRC is an excellent partner combining a unique community perspective and experience that will accelerate the scale-up of TB interventions and provide faster screening of at-risk populations."
In Niger, only 46 per cent of people with TB are ever tested for HIV. TB and HIV form a lethal combination, each speeding the course of the other. Someone who is infected with HIV and TB is much more likely to become sick with active TB. The grant will also ensure that all TB patients have access to HIV testing and early treatment services.
"We believe that no one should be left behind in the fight against TB," said Geleta. "Equitable access to quality diagnosis and treatment services, combined with skilled community volunteers - is the winning formula to accelerate progress towards zero TB deaths, infections and suffering."