Go Back

Brazzil - Health - March 2004
 

TB Still a Scourge in Brazil

According to Brazil's Ministry of Health, every year Brazil has
100,000 new cases of tuberculosis. Although tuberculosis is
curable, 6,000 people die of that disease in Brazil each year.
This year, Brazilians will produce 17 million TB vaccines. Due
to new drug resistant strains, though, they need new vaccines.

Paula Menna Barreto


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," he explains.

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 bladder cancer.

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 lia@radiobras.gov.br
Translated by Allen Bennett.


Discuss it in our Forum

Send your comments to Brazzil

Anything to say about Brazil or Brazilians? Brazzil
wishes to publish your material. See what to do.