China has promised to step up its efforts to combat the drug-resistant tuberculosis, while Microsoft's Bill Gates is stepping in with a huge grant of 33 million U.S. dollars.
"Facing drug resistant TB, a global challenge, the Chinese government will strengthen prevention and treatment work," Vice Premier Li Keqiang said Wednesday.
Addressing a meeting of health ministers from 32 countries and regions, Li said China, would improve public health by reforming the hygiene system.
Li said the government regarded medical reform as an important measure to cope with the international financial crisis and to ensure economic growth in a rapid and stable way.
"We provide health care to the people as a public benefit, trying to ensure basic medial services for all citizens," Li said.
China started to reform its medical system this year. The government has said the key reforms included: establishment of a nationwide basic medical and health care system covering all citizens: a basic pharmaceutical system to reduce the cost of drugs; improved community-level medical and health service systems: equal access for all to basic public health services; and reform of public hospitals.
Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Jorge Sampaio, the UN secretary-general's special envoy to stop TB, and Bill Gates, co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, attended the meeting, an initiative of the WHO.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met with Gates later on Wednesday, applauding his help for China in HIV/AIDS and TB prevention and treatment.
China's health ministry and the software tycoon are teaming up to improve TB detection and treatment in the country. China will introduce new diagnostic tests, TB drugs, patient monitoring strategies and health care worker training funded with the donation from the Gates foundation. China's health ministry and international software tycoon Bill Gates are teaming up to improve detection and treatment of tuberculosis (TB) in the country.
Chinese health minister Chen Zhu said the project would be carried out in 20 cities in six provinces in the next five years, eventually covering 100 million people. The goal is to treat 50,000 TB patients each year.
Project plans include new diagnostic tests to improve detection of TB and fixed-dose drug combinations to reduce the number of pills a patient has to take each day by 70 percent.
Technology will also play a part. Treatment reminders will be sent out with cell phone text messages and medicine kits will have built-in reminder alarms.
The health ministry also plans on providing new incentives for health care workers, especially those in rural areas, to maintain effective follow-up of TB patients during the entire 6-8 months of treatment.
China reported 1.3 million new TB cases in 2007, including 112,000 new multi drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) cases. The rate is the second highest in the world, after India.
About 80 percent of Chinese TB patients live in poor rural areas, Chen said.
The WHO blamed substandard treatment, partly caused by time-consuming diagnosis, lack of easy-to-use drugs and problems with doctors' treatment follow-up, for making TB strains increasingly resistant to drugs.
Gates stressed that innovation should be applied in worldwide TB control to develop new diagnostics, drugs, and even vaccines.
"The rise of drug-resistant TB worldwide has created a new urgency to combat the disease, while scientific innovation is leading to new technologies that will help us succeed," Gates said.
He went on to say, the most commonly used diagnostic test for TB detects only half of all cases. But by using new technology known as the LED microscope, 65 percent of cases can be detected. It also reduces the time it takes to make a diagnosis to one third of what is needed at present.
The diagnostic test for MDR-TB will require just one day for completion, compared with at least six weeks now. It will help prevent new infections.
The use of fixed-dose drug combinations can reduce 13 daily pills to just three or four, which will "make it much easier for patients to complete the treatment, cure their disease, and stop transmitting TB," Gates said.
He said China was the "perfect laboratory" for large-scale testing of new tools and delivery techniques to fight TB because of "its skill, its scale, its TB burden, its love of innovation and its political commitment to public health."
Vice Premier Li Keqiang said at the WHO meeting that TB control strategies would be incorporated within the country's health system reform which is aimed at delivering universal medical service to all 1.3 billion people, Xinhua reported.