WHO Report on Drug-Resistant TB Paints Unsettling Picture

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What is more worrisome when it comes to drug-resistant TB: What we do know about the epidemic? Or what we don’t know?

The latest World Health Organization report on the epidemic provides plenty of both—some grim facts and some disconcerting question marks.  Take these nuggets:

*A shocking 41 percent of countries cannot provide reliable data on the scope of drug-resistant TB within their borders, according to the report, on the eve of World TB Day.

*The up-to-date tools needed to diagnose drug-resistant TB are not available in more than half of the 27 countries most heavily affected by multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB).

*An estimated 440,000 new cases of MDR-TB emerge each year, but only 7 percent of those cases are actually being detected. And even fewer are being treated. One-third of the estimated new cases each prove fatal. As for extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB), there’s even less information.

In many of the places that do report good data, the WHO found MDR-TB at record levels; in one region of northwestern Russia, for example, 28 percent (more than 1 in four) new TB cases involved a strain of the bug that could not be treated with standard TB medicines. Other places could be even worse. But poor surveillance, inadequate laboratories, and antiquated diagnostics obscure the full scope of the threat.

 Dr. Mario Raviglione, Director of the WHO Stop TB Department, and Dr. Marcos Espinal, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership, ran through some of this data in a briefing for TB advocates and experts in Washington today. They also highlighted the lack of adequate funding or political commitment to TB, saying this urgent global health threat simple was not getting the attention it requires.

Dr. Raviglione said Europe is “de facto” asleep when it comes to TB, no UN leader “has ever recognized TB as a priority,” and no rich countries have ever launched a presidential-level initiative to combat the disease. They two WHO officials commended U.S. leadership on TB but said much more needs to be done here and around the world.

Click here to see the full WHO report.

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