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WHO: Tuberculosis passes HIV as leading global cause of death

Researchers said most tuberculosis deaths are preventable but gaps in funding are slowing advances against the disease.

By
Stephen Feller
An estimated 1.5 million people died from tuberculosis in 2014 because the disease either went undetected or was left untreated. Photo by szefei/Shutterstock
An estimated 1.5 million people died from tuberculosis in 2014 because the disease either went undetected or was left untreated. Photo by szefei/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, Oct. 28 (UPI) -- Tuberculosis has surpassed human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, as the leading cause of global death, despite the death rate from tuberculosis having been cut in half over the last 25 years, according to a report from the World Health Organization.

Most deaths from tuberculosis could be prevented, researchers said, but detection and treatment aren't happening fast enough because of gaps in funding.

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Incidence of tuberculosis, a bacterial infection that affects the lungs, has fallen 1.5 percent per year since 2000 because of global efforts to wipe out the disease, which has saved about 43 million people.

"The report shows that TB control has had a tremendous impact in terms of lives saved and patients cured," said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, in a press release. "These advances are heartening, but if the world is to end this epidemic, it needs to scale up services and, critically, invest in research."

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According to the WHO's Global Tuberculosis Report 2015, there were 9.6 million new cases of the disease in 2014, an increase from previous years, however researchers write that the increase can be blamed on better data reported by governments rather than the disease becoming more widespread.

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Tuberculosis killed about 1.5 million people globally in 2014 -- 890,000 men, 480,000 women, and 140,000 children -- and now ranks alongside HIV one of the leading causes of death in the world. In 2014, HIV killed 1.2 million people, including 400,000 who also had tuberculosis.

Researchers point specifically to a gap in detection of the disease. Of the 9.6 million people estimated to have contracted tuberculosis in 2014, only 6 million were reported to governments -- leaving 37.5 percent of patients either undiagnosed or not reported.

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The WHO reports they were $1.4 billion short of the $8 billion needed to fully tackle the disease, and that filling an annual $1.3 billion funding gap would allow for diagnostic tools and drugs would help immensely.

"Despite the gains, the progress made against tuberculosis is far from sufficient," said Dr. Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO's Global Tuberculosis Program. "We are still facing a burden of 4,400 people dying every day, which is unacceptable in an era when you can diagnose and cure nearly every person with tuberculosis."

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