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World TB Day 2011

Pinky Molefe, right, gets TB medication at a clinic in Alexandra township, north of Johannesburg. (file)

Commemorating Dr. Robert Koch's discovery, in 1882, of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that cause the disease.

On March 24th, the global community observes World Tuberculosis Day, commemorating Dr. Robert Koch's discovery, in 1882, of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that cause the disease.

Tuberculosis is a disease of the urban poor, affecting the most vulnerable and marginalized. It is closely linked to substandard housing, malnutrition, and other social determinants of health.

In the past two decades, there has been tremendous progress in fighting tuberculosis, said Dr. Rajiv Shah, U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, Administrator in a written statement. Milestones include a 35 percent decline in mortality since 1990, a 14 percent decrease in the prevalence of TB over the past two decades, and the emergence of new technologies which are better able to detect multidrug resistant TB.

Nonetheless, TB continues to be a major global health threat, said Dr. Shah. "In a world that is urbanizing at a rate of 200,000 every day, we must be aggressive and innovative in fighting TB.

"Large numbers of TB cases go undetected and untreated, fueling new cases and deaths. The frightening growth of drug-resistant strains of TB—including strains we simply cannot yet treat—adds to the urgency of combating this disease."

That is why the U.S. is making major investments to prevent and control TB in countries around the world where the burden of the disease is highest, said Dr. Shah. For its part in this effort, USAID is strengthening country-level efforts to scale up and provide diagnostic and treatment services.

"USAID will strive to treat 2.6 million TB patients and initiate treatment of at least 57,200 new cases by 2014," said Dr. Shah.

Through the Global Health Initiative, or GHI, the U.S. supports countries’ efforts to advance the health of their own people. By strengthening health systems, including through programs that address infectious diseases like tuberculosis, GHI ensures that improvements in health can continue for generations.

In collaboration with host nations and our partners, the U.S. works to improve the quality of basic TB programs, upgrade laboratory infrastructure, introduce new diagnostic technologies, and train community health workers to assist with early diagnosis and facilitate treatment for patients.

The U.S. is also the first and largest single contributor to the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB, and Malaria, having contributed over $5 billion to the Global Fund since its inception.

The U.S. realizes that it will take a lot of political will, innovative thinking and investment in research and new technologies to rid the world of this disease which has plagued mankind for centuries.