China's top health authority has extended its cooperation with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in fighting tuberculosis across the country, aiming at scaling up proven models for curbing the disease and piloting innovative approaches.
The extension of the collaboration was announced in Beijing on Wednesday after a decadelong project between the National Health Commission and the foundation saw many Chinese TB patients access advanced tools for diagnosis and treatment, as well as a funding mechanism that helped reduce heavy costs preventing them from completing the treatment.
China is one of 30 countries and regions designated by the World Health Organization as facing the largest TB burdens.
Each year, about 900,000 new patients are diagnosed in the country-the second highest in the world.
The project, initiated in 2009, culminated in a trial program that covers 90 million people in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region and Zhejiang and Jilin provinces, according to the foundation.
The program introduced a new diagnosis kit that allowed health workers to determine within two hours if a patient has drug-resistant TB, compared with an average of two months in 2009.
It also provided advanced medications that boosted cure rates from 50 to 85 percent.
Though most TB cases are curable, it is crucial for patients to strictly adhere to treatment regimes by taking a fixed number of pills for at least six months, but many tend to give up due to a lack of access to medications over a long period, or because of a reckless attitude.
Under the program, patients only need to take three pills a day for the same therapeutic effect that would otherwise require 13 pills. They also use smart pill reminder boxes to help track use of medications and allow health workers to download relevant data to check patients' compliance.
Ma Xiaowei, head of the National Health Commission, said on Wednesday that these measures will be further promoted in key provincial regions in China and they are also worth sharing with other countries confronted with a tough battle against the disease.
"We will continue to deploy novel prevention and treatment tools designed for TB and enhance our capability to tackle the drug-resistant type of TB," he said.
Ma added that the success of the earlier project is a testament to the significance of global cooperation in advancing healthcare.
Bill Gates, co-chair of the foundation, said ending TB in China will not only be a breakthrough for the country, but also a major achievement for the world.
"As China continues to improve its system for preventing and controlling TB, and to research new vaccines, drugs and diagnostics, these advances will help other nations where TB is still a health challenge," he said, adding that he is enthusiastic about China's capacity to play a role in inventing the next generation of TB-related tools and therapies that could improve the health and well-being of patients in China and around the world.