Fifty-eighth Session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, 10-14 September 2007, Jeju, Republic of Korea
Jeju, Republic of Korea, 12 September 2007—Dr Shigeru Omi, World Health Organization Regional Director for the Western Pacific, today called for greater political commitment in addressing the growing epidemic of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in the Western Pacific Region.
Dr Omi made the appeal to Member States at the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, WHO's governing body in the Region, currently meeting in Jeju, to review WHO's work in the Region.
"There is an urgent need to scale up the management of multidrug resistant TB, which has emerged across the Region, including the Pacific," said Dr Omi. "The potential magnitude of the threat of multidrug-resistant TB in the Region requires countries to urgently develop a response and thus prevent the development of extensively drug resistant TB or XDR-TB."
The Region has about a third of the global multidrug-resistant TB burden, mostly in China and the Philippines, and to some extent, in Mongolia, the Republic of Korea and Viet Nam.
Tuberculosis continues to be a major public health problem in the Western Pacific despite it being the only WHO Region that has achieved the 2005 global targets for TB control. In 2005, the latest year for which data are available, the Region had an estimated 1.9 million new TB cases.
Dr Omi also drew attention to the increasing concern on HIV-related TB, saying that in this Region, TB is the main opportunistic infection that kills people living with HIV/AIDS. "The high case fatality of TB-HIV co-infected individuals observed in the Region needs to be addressed through early diagnosis of both conditions as well as prompt implementation of adequate treatment, care and support," Dr Omi said. There is, therefore, a need for comprehensive infection control strategies in health care settings to prevent the spread of TB among people living with HIV.
Meanwhile, access to HIV treatment continues to expand but significant obstacles to achieving universal access still have to be overcome. At the United Nations' General Assembly high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS in 2006, Member States agreed to work towards the goal of "universal access" to comprehensive HIV prevention programmes, treatment, care and support by 2010.
"Universal access by 2010 will require a steep increase in the number of people starting treatment every year," Dr Omi said in a briefing paper. "Even though the treatment gap has been decreasing in recent years, people currently living with HIV/AIDS will progress towards symptomatic HIV disease and eventually require treatment."
In the Western Pacific Region, it was estimated that 1.3 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2006, while almost 80 000 individuals died of HIV/AIDS the same year. Despite some success in scaling up prevention interventions, the epidemic continues to grow, with an estimated 167 000 new HIV infections occurring in the Region in 2006.