New Delhi: Tuberculosis accounts for nearly half million deaths every year in the South-East Asian region even as the number of people suffering from the it has come down by 40 percent, the World Health Organisation (WHO) noted Thursday.

The WHO called for greater partnerships with all sections of society to eliminate this disease in the region, which has five of the world’s 22 TB high-burden countries. The region includes nations like Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia among others.

“Partnerships, education and empowerment of the people as part of primary health care, are key to eliminating TB. Partnerships, with NGOs, public and private hospitals, and others, since the 1990s, contributed to about 25 percent increase in case notification and more than 90 percent of the treatment success rate,” said Samlee Plianbangchang, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia.

“However, tuberculosis is a disease of poverty and unless we reach the poorest of the poor, and focus on prevention and education, we cannot eliminate the disease,” Plianbangchang added.

According to the WHO annual report on tuberculosis titled Tuberculosis Control in the South-East Asia Region 2012, the region registered an estimated 5 million prevalent and about 3.5 million incident TB cases in 2010.

“Though the death rates in the region have declined due to successful implementation of the directly observed treatment, short course (DOTS), the disease still claims about half a million lives a year in the region,” the report said.

In India, according to the health ministry’s TB Control statistics, the disease kills two people every three minutes, and accounts for over 3 million (3 lakh) deaths every year.

While India has been relying on DOTS treatment to fight the disease, the country has also faced the recent controversy of drug resistance after a team of doctors from Mumbai’s Hinduja hospital recently found cases of totally-drug resistant (TDR) TB resistant to all drugs used to treat the disease.

The health ministry, after its report by experts, stated the cases to be falling within the category of Extensively Drug Resistant TB (XDR TB). The ministry shrugged off the term ‘TDR’ saying it is not recognised by the WHO.

While XDR-TB cases are resistant to any of the three second-line drugs, the multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) cases do not respond to at least two of the most potent first-line anti-TB drugs.

The airborne disease is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis that affects the lungs. Symptoms include severe cough which lasts for three weeks or longer, producing bloody or discoloured sputum, night sweats, fever, fatigue and weakness, pain in the chest, loss of appetite, and pain in breathing or coughing.

Source: IANS