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Last Updated: Friday, 22 June 2007, 08:50 GMT 09:50 UK
Drive to curb drug-resistant TB
TB
TB strains are increasingly immune to current drugs
The World Health Organization has unveiled a two-year plan to combat the spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis.

It is hoped the measures will prevent hundreds of thousands of cases of drug-resistant TB - and save as many as 134,000 lives world-wide.

The aim is to prevent, treat and tightly control cases.

Dr Margaret Chan, WHO director-general, has called drug-resistant TB "a threat to the security and stability of global health."

If we allow drug resistance to be created and to expand unchecked then we face the possibility of that epidemic of drug-susceptible TB being replaced by really very drug-resistant TB
Dr Paul Nunn
World Health Organization

Extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB), a form virtually immune to antibiotics, has been reported in 37 countries in all regions of the world since emerging in 2006.

It is estimated that there may already be up to 30,000 cases a year.

Some 8.8 million people each year develop normal TB, a bacterial infection that usually attacks the lungs.

In addition, about 450,000 people a year are infected with a multi-resistant form (MDR-TB) which is resistant to the main first-line drugs.

Ambitious plan

The WHO proposals emphasise the need to boost basic TB control and target investment in key areas, such as treatment programmes, diagnostic laboratories, and research into new drugs and vaccines.

Dr Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO Stop TB Department, said: "It is an ambitious plan that must be fully supported if we are to keep a stranglehold on drug-resistant TB."

The plan's coordinator, Dr Paul Nunn, warned that if drug-resistant TB was allowed to spread unchecked, the world could be pushed back to a pre-antibiotic era with no real hope of a cure.

He said: "At the moment we have around nine million new cases of tuberculosis occurring each year, most of which are sensitive to the standard drugs.

"If we allow drug resistance to be created and to expand unchecked then we face the possibility of that epidemic of drug-susceptible TB being replaced by really very drug-resistant TB.

"This pushes us back to the pre-antibiotic era, back into the time of sanatoriums and fresh air and sunlight and no real definite hope of a cure."

Growing threat

Researchers flagged up the growing threat of new strains of highly-resistant TB in March 2006.

Concerns were heightened six months later by a cluster of "virtually untreatable" cases in an area of South Africa with high prevalence of HIV.

All but one of the 53 patients died in an average of 25 days after samples were taken for drug resistance tests.

And last month a US citizen was found to have extensively drug-resistant TB while travelling around Europe on his honeymoon.

The total budget for the two-year plan is US$2.15bn.


SEE ALSO
Older TB vaccines 'work better'
18 Mar 07 |  Health
Drug resistant TB 'more severe'
16 Dec 06 |  Health
Tuberculosis
08 Feb 03 |  Medical notes

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