China lags in controlling TB spread even as new cases drop

China, still far behind in conquering the spread of tuberculosis, has united its health experts with U.S. counterparts to collaborate on getting control of the disease that had 880,000 new cases last year. Yet that was a 1.7% decline from the 2013 number.

The U.S. CDC's epidemiology chief, Carol Rao, said the collaboration was intended to bring the expertise of the United States, where TB is relatively rare, to China to help in its fight.

China researchers recently published the results of a huge effort to tackle outbreaks of the multidrug-resistant variety of the disease (MDRTB), funded in part by the U.S.-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The study noted that China claimed a quarter of the globe's MDRTB cases, yet fewer than 5% received quality treatment. The government instigated a program aimed at providing access by all patients to diagnoses, treatment and follow-up visits. It was tested in four cities that collectively had a population of 18 million.

The research reported in the journal Lancet claimed the program that targeted the financial risks to MDRTB patients in getting treatment was a success that could help China provide universal access to affordable care.

The China CDC's chief TB physician, Zhou Lin, told the China Daily the nation's public still lacked a basic knowledge of the disease, many of them choosing to believe rumors that discourage treatments.

His agency counted only 3% of 100,000 new MDRTB cases as late as 2011 that had been diagnosed and reported and only 2% of those received even standard treatment. The public understands the threat of HIV and malaria, but has little understanding of TB, Lin said.

- here's the China Daily story and Lancet study