With an estimated 50 million people (out of a population of 170 million) infected
with the Koch bacillus, the bacteria that causes tuberculosis, Brazil does
not have much to commemorate on World Tuberculosis Day. The disease will not
develop in all of those people, but Brazil gets around 119,000 new cases annually.
And although the disease
is curable, 6,000 people die of tuberculosis in Brazil each year. All of which
is why Brazil is in 15th place on a World Health Organization list of countries
that need to do more in diagnosing and treating tuberculosis.
Minister of Health, Humberto
Costa, who is in India at the moment attending a world forum on tuberculosis,
calls Brazil's position on the list "uncomfortable, especially because
the country has high levels of development in so many other areas."
The government's goal
is to reverse the situation by investing some US$ 40 million between now and
the year 2007 to improve data on the disease, along with its diagnosis and
treatment. Meanwhile the country's best laboratories are trying to do something
about the problem.
Two of Brazil's most prestigious
biology research centers, the Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz)
and Fundação Ataulpho de Paiva (FAP) have just announced that
they will seek to map the genetic sequence of the tuberculosis bacillus used
in the vaccine known as BCG Moreau. According to an explanation by Fiocruz,
the mapping will make it possible to develop more efficient vaccines with
fewer collateral effects.
Luiz Roberto Castello
Branco, scientific director at FAP, says that the Brazilian vaccine now used
was developed in 1930 and is no longer efficient against some more resistant
strains. "But even so, our vaccine is considered the best in the world
in terms of immunization efficiency and lack of collateral effects,"
The Fiocruz-FAP genetic
sequencing project will cost an estimated US$ 170,000 and should be completed
in a year. Attempts will be made during the process to develop other so-called
modified vaccines, which can be used for protection against other diseases.
The scientists will also be trying to discover why BCG (which stands for an
attenuated tubercle bacilli strain named Bacillus Calmette-Guerin) can provide
partial immunity against leprosy and is efficient in treating asthma and superficial
Brazil needs an efficient
tuberculosis vaccine. This year FAP will produce 17 million vaccines. According
to Ministry of Health data, every year Brazil has 100,000 new cases. And with
the appearance of drug resistant strains the need becomes urgent.
The World Health Organization
(WHO) reports that a new resistant strain is on the move after appearing in
China and other parts of eastern Asia. WHO considers drug resistant tuberculosis
to be a major threat to public health worldwide and has called on governments
to implement special measures to monitor and treat the disease.
Paula Menna Barreto works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press
agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at email@example.com
by Allen Bennett.