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Small drop in reported TB cases

The Associated Press

LONDON -- The World Health Organization says the number of people with tuberculosis has fallen for the first time.

In a report issued yesterday, the WHO estimated that 8.8 million people fell ill last year, down from a peak of about 9 million in 2005. Although fewer people are dying from the disease, a third of cases worldwide are probably not reported, it was noted.

The small decline in reported cases is partly due to increased availability of medical treatment for TB, the WHO said. The UN health agency said estimates are more accurate now because countries have better surveillance of tuberculosis patients.

The TB death rate is expected to be reduced by half by 2015 everywhere except in Africa, where the AIDS epidemic has also fueled a spike in tuberculosis. India and China account for about 40 percent of the world's tuberculosis cases.

In recent years health experts have warned of the increasing threat of drug-resistant tuberculosis, a signal that many people with TB aren't being treated properly. Last month they warned that the drug-resistant kind is spreading fast in Europe. The WHO estimated countries need another $1 billion to fund tuberculosis programs in 2012.

The report said not enough data is available to know whether the global outbreak of drug-resistant tuberculosis is increasing, decreasing or stable. A new rapid test for drug-resistant TB was unveiled last year in more than two dozen countries.

"The promise of testing more people must be matched with the commitment to treat all detected," Mario Raviglione of the WHO's TB department said. "It would be a scandal to leave diagnosed patients without treatment."