New York, NY (BBN)- The United Nations health agency has reported that for the first time the number of people falling ill with tuberculosis (TB) each year is declining, but warned that current progress is at risk due to under-funding.

New data, published in the World Health Organization (WHO) 2011 Global Tuberculosis Control Report, shows that the number of people who fell ill with TB dropped to 8.8 million in 2010, after peaking at 9 million in 2005.

The report also finds that TB deaths fell to 1.4 million in 2010, after reaching 1.8 million in 2003.

At the same time, it states that current progress is at risk from under-funding, especially efforts to combat multi-drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB), a form of the disease that fails to respond to standard first-line drugs.

While the share of domestic funding allocated to TB rose to 86 per cent worldwide for 2012, most low-income countries still rely heavily on external funding. Overall, countries have reported a funding shortfall of $1 billion for carrying out TB-related activities in 2012, of which $200 million is for the MDR-TB response.

“Fewer people are dying of tuberculosis, and fewer are falling ill. This is major progress,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“But it is no cause for complacency,” he added. “Too many millions still develop TB each year, and too many die. I urge serious and sustained support for the Stop TB Partnership in the years to come.”

Established in 2001 building on the Stop TB Initiative launched by WHO, the Partnership seeks to realize the goal of eliminating TB as a public health problem and, ultimately, to obtain a world free of TB. It comprises a network of international organizations, countries, donors from the public and private sectors, as well as governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The report shows that the TB death rate dropped 40 per cent between 1990 and 2010, and all regions, except Africa, are on track to achieve a 50 per cent decline in mortality by 2015.

Much of the progress reported today is the result of expanded efforts in large countries, such as Kenya and Tanzania where the burden of TB is estimated to have been declining for much of the last decade after a peak linked to the HIV epidemic.

Brazil has also reported a significant and sustained decline in its TB burden since 1990, according to WHO, while the progress in China has been “dramatic.” China’s TB death rate fell by almost 80 per cent, falling from 216,000 in 1990 to 55,000 in 2010.

BBN/SSR/AD-12Oct11-12:56 pm (BST)