European Union ‘Faces TB Crisis’

Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 October 2006, 00:45 GMT 01:45 UK
BBC News

European Union 'faces TB crisis'

Drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis in Eastern Europe and central Asia are putting EU states at risk of a deadly outbreak, health officials have warned.

The Red Cross called it the most alarming tuberculosis situation since World War II and urged EU leaders to do more to combat the threat.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said the “hottest zones” of new strains were all on the borders of the EU.

Of 450,000 cases in Europe and central Asia annually, 70,000 are new strains.

'Wake up'

The health groups' warnings came as they launched the Stop TB Partnership in Europe to try to fight the epidemic.

Markku Niskala, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said the message for EU leaders was: “Wake up, do not delay, do not let this problem get further out of hand.”

“The drug resistance that we are seeing now is without doubt the most alarming tuberculosis situation on the continent since World War II,” he said.

The WHO has found high levels of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in Baltic countries, Eastern Europe and central Asia.

And studies in Latvia showed 18% of drug-resistant cases there are the most extreme variant.

“The hottest zones of drug-resistant tuberculosis are all around the periphery of the European Union,” said Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO's Stop TB division.

“Investment in tuberculosis control must reflect the real emergency we are facing and be placed higher on the European agenda, especially in donor countries,” he said.

The partnership between the Red Cross and the WHO is designed to boost detection, infection control and treatment of TB.

About 1.7m people die of the disease every year.