PARIS — Disease experts called Sunday for decisive leadership and more research funding to fend off the “very real” risk of an untreatable strain of tuberculosis (TB) emerging as more and more people develop resistance to existing drugs.
In a series of papers in the Lancet medical journal to mark World TB Day on Sunday, they warned that health systems risked being overwhelmed by increasing numbers of drug-resistant TB patients. Already, more than 30 percent of newly diagnosed patients in parts of eastern Europe and central Asia have multi-drug resistant (MDR) TB, a form of the disease which does not respond to the two most potent drugs — isoniazid and rifampin. There were believed to be about 630,000 MDR cases out of some 12 million TB cases in 2011. Extensively drug resistant (XDR) TB, thus far reported in 84 countries, does not respond to an even wider range of drugs. “The widespread emergence of XDR tuberculosis could lead to virtually untreatable tuberculosis,” wrote the authors of one study, led by Alimuddin Zumla, director of the Centre for Infectious Diseases and International Health at University College London Medical School. “With ease of international travel and increased rates of MDR tuberculosis … the threat and range of the spread of untreatable tuberculosis is very real,” they said. TB was declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO) 20 years ago, but remains a leading cause of death by an infectious disease. On its website, the U.N. agency says at least US$1.6 billion (1.2 billion euros) is needed annually to prevent the spread of the disease.
For their part, the study authors urged “a radical change in political and scientific thinking.”