The rate of tuberculosis incidence fell slightly worldwide for a second straight year in 2006, but there were still 9.2 million new cases and the disease killed 1.7 million people, the UN health agency said.
The rate decline of 0.6 percent in 2006 compared to 2005 was so modest that the increase in the world's population meant there were actually more TB cases globally, the World Health Organization said in its annual report on tuberculosis.
And WHO officials cited worrisome trends suggesting that recent progress was stalling, while saying more money is needed to fight TB, which trails only AIDS as the world's leading killer among infectious diseases.
By region, Africa had the highest TB rates while Asia had the most cases. By nation, India had the most cases, followed by China, Indonesia, South Africa and Nigeria, according to the report based on data from 202 countries and territories.
"We're really in a very uncertain situation, so I don't feel happy at all, actually, that it is really getting controlled," Dr. Mario Raviglione, who heads WHO efforts against TB, told reporters in a conference call.
TB efforts decreasing
"The major concern is that there is a slowdown here, rather than an acceleration, in TB control efforts," Raviglione said.
The data came out a month after another WHO report showed that TB cases that defy existing drugs were occurring globally at the highest rates ever, with nearly 490,000 cases in 2006. Parts of the former Soviet Union were particularly vulnerable.
TB is an infectious bacterial disease typically attacking the lungs. The emergence and spread of drug-resistant germs makes treating it much harder and could make it even deadlier.
WHO officials said they had hoped for a bigger decline in the TB rate in 2006 after seeing the milestone of a first TB rate decline in 2005. They also noted that the rate at which people were diagnosed with new cases in countries was lower in 2006 than the rate seen between 2001 to 2005.
All told, an estimated 14.4 million people had TB in 2006, the WHO said. Among those, there were 9.2 million new cases - including 700,000 people who also are HIV-infected - up from 9.1 million cases in 2005. Worldwide death rates from TB fell by 2.6 percent in 2006 compared to 2005, the WHO said.
About 230,000 of the 1.7 million people killed by TB in 2006 were infected with the AIDS virus.
WHO officials said there is a shortfall in funding to combat TB around the world, saying $4.8 billion is needed this year while only $2.7 billion has been made available by nations where the disease is commonm, and by international donors.
"This data should serve as a warning to the global community that we must do more and be more aggressive in supporting TB programs or face a continued erosion of progress," Joanne Carter of the RESULTS anti-poverty advocacy organisation.
"And while there has been notable progress in recent years, we are starting to see the needle move in the wrong direction. And on top of last month's data on high rates of drug resistance, we should take this very seriously and act with urgency," Carter added. – (Will Dunham/Reuters Health)
Tough TB quadruples in WCape