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On World TB Day Project HOPE Hails Promise Of New Diagnosis Technology

On World TB Day, global NGO Project HOPE says new technology has the potential to revolutionize the speedy and accurate diagnosis of tuberculosis, one of the deadliest public health threats which claims about six million lives each year.

About one-third of the world’s population is infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTb), the bacterium that causes TB. Tuberculosis is spread from person to person through the air as the bacteria may be passed on through coughing, sneezing, talking or laughing.

But now, the GeneXpert®, a cartridge-based, automated, real-time molecular diagnostic test can identify Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) and resistance to rifampicin (RIF) simultaneously in about 100 minutes. In addition to providing rapid diagnosis of TB, operating the GeneXpert® does not require a high level laboratory with stringent bio-safety standards, which allows this technology to be introduced closer to the populations that need it. The World Health Organization (WHO) has endorsed the technology for use in TB endemic countries, declaring it a major milestone for global TB diagnosis.

Project HOPE, a global health education and humanitarian assistance organization, has been using the GeneXpert® machines in field offices in southern Malawi since October 2011. The program, supported by USAID, has eight GeneXpert® machines currently in operation in the rural districts of Mulanje, Phalombe, Balaka, Mangochi, Zomba and Chikhwawa – an area that accounts for 21 percent of the country’s total population and 18 percent of Malawi’s known TB cases.

“This technology represents a major breakthrough in TB diagnostics in the public sector. We need to have this technology at the primary care level – on the frontlines of the battle to eradicate TB,” said Steve Neri, Project HOPE’s regional director for Africa.

Educating communities about tuberculosis detection and TB/HIV co-infection is equally crucial, says Neri.

“There’s still a stigma associated with TB and HIV. There needs to be more information and counseling available at the community level so people will know that if you’re getting tested for TB, you should also get tested for HIV. We need to empower individuals to demand the services that will save their lives,” said Neri.

HOPE’s efforts in Malawi have yielded positive results in preventing the spread of TB, a major cause of death and sickness, especially for people with HIV/AIDS.

Project HOPE initiated a five-year program in 2006 in Malawi’s Mulanje and Phalombe districts to support the National TB Program and improve TB case management and treatment outcomes. Project HOPE-trained volunteers made regular trips from their villages, on foot or on bike, carrying TB test samples to TB diagnostic centers miles away – and the results are formidable.

The TB treatment success rate in the districts increased from 60 percent to 86 percent in the five year period, surpassing the WHO’s target rate of 85 percent, and mortality rates decreased to 11 per cent from 20 percent.

In Central Asia, Project HOPE is introducing GeneXpert® technology as a catalyst for improved care at a clinical level in the future.

“GeneXpert®, in addition to improving case detection and rapid identification of Multi-Drug Resistant (MDR) TB cases, will be used to trigger change in practices and to move systems towards ambulatory care,” said Tom Mohr, Regional TB Manager for Project HOPE in Central Asia.

The GeneXpert® System is manufactured by Cepheid, a leading molecular diagnostics company based in Sunnyvale, California.

World TB Day is an annual global event on March 24 that aims to raise public awareness of tuberculosis and the efforts made to prevent and treat the disease.

About Project HOPE

Founded in 1958, Project HOPE (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere) is dedicated to providing lasting solutions to health problems, with the mission of helping people to help themselves. Identifiable to many by the SS HOPE, the world’s first peacetime hospital ship, Project HOPE now conducts land-based medical training and health education programs in more than 35 countries across five continents.

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