U.K. Omitted From WHO Plan to Eliminate TB in Rich Countries

Jul 03, 2014 11:13 am ET

(Updates with additional WHO comments in fifth paragraph.)

July 3 (Bloomberg) -- The U.K. has too big a problem with tuberculosis to participate in a World Health Organization plan to eliminate the world’s second-deadliest disease from more than 30 countries.

Nations such as the U.S., Switzerland and Australia, will aim to reduce the number of new TB cases to less than 1 per million people annually by 2050 from less than 100 per million now, the Geneva-based WHO said in a statement today. The U.K., with about 150 new cases per million in 2012, is ineligible for the plan, as are Spain and Portugal, the other countries in western Europe with the highest levels of the disease.

The 33 countries and territories involved in the agreement have the lowest rates of tuberculosis, making them well-placed to aim for elimination, the WHO said. The disease killed 1.3 million people in 2012, according to the United Nations agency.

Countries with low levels of TB “can serve as global trailblazers,” Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO’s Global TB Program, said in the statement.

The most vulnerable groups include the poor, people who use drugs, smokers, heavy drinkers and people with HIV or diabetes, according to the statement. As TB rates have fallen in many of these countries, attention to the threat from the disease has waned and capacity to respond could be weakened, WHO said.

Drug-Resistant Forms

“Powerful antibiotics and better living standards have almost pushed the disease out of many high-income countries,” Giovanni Battista Migliori, Secretary General of the European Respiratory Society, said in the statement. “If we do the wrong things now, TB could rebound, including with more drug-resistant forms.”

The 33 countries and territories are Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Jordan, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Puerto Rico, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, the U.S. and the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The plan is also “relevant” to countries that are moving closer to less than 100 new cases per 1 million a year, according to the WHO.