Drug-resistant tuberculosis and HIV have merged into a double-barreled epidemic that is sweeping across sub-Saharan Africa and threatening global efforts to eradicate both diseases, according to a report released Friday.
A third of the world’s 40 million HIV/AIDS sufferers also have TB, and the death rate for people infected with both is five times higher than that for tuberculosis alone.
The situation is aggravated by surging rates of multi-drug resistant (MDR) and extensively drug-resistant (XDR) TB precisely in those areas where the rates of HIV infection are highest.
One third of the world’s population carries the tuberculosis bacterium, but the disease remains latent in nine out of 10.
HIV, however, changes the equation: Of those whose immune systems have been compromised by HIV, 10 percent will develop active tuberculosis each year, according to the report.
“In today’s world, a new TB infection occurs every second. When one considers that much of this transmission occurs in areas with high HIV prevalence, the imminent danger of a global co-epidemic is clear,” said Diane Havlir, head of the World Health Organisation’s TB/HIV working group.
TB control has been severely destabilised in regions with high rates of HIV, the study says.
In one community of 13,000 people outside of Cape Town, South Africa, the TB patient case load increased six-fold between 1996 and 2004, the researchers reported.
There are approximately nine million new cases of tuberculosis in the world every year, according to the WHO. In 2005, the disease killed 1.6 million people.
At the same time, an estimated 40 million people are living with HIV, according to the UN and the WHO. There were 4.3 million new infections in 2006 with 2.8 million (65 percent) of these occurring in sub-Saharan Africa.