Plans to tackle drug resistant tuberculosis

A plan has been drawn up to tackle the increasing numbers of drug-resistant tuberculosis cases in 53 European countries. Calling the situation alarming, the World Health Organization reports that Eastern Europe has the highest level of infection, while in Western Europe, London has the highest TB rate of any capital city. Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan are among the countries with the highest burden of illness. There are an estimated there 81,000 cases of drug-resistant TB a year in Europe. And this is an underestimation say experts.

The plan aims to increase diagnosis and give more people access to treatment. According to experts, the plan has the potential to save 120,000 lives by 2015.

The World Health Organization released a plan this week to curb the spread of drug-resistant TB across Europe. It aims to diagnose 85 percent of all patients and to treat at least 75 percent of them by the end of 2015. Only about 32 percent of patients with drug-resistant TB in Western Europe get appropriate treatment. Many stop taking their medicines before the treatment course is up, allowing the bug to develop resistance.

“Although the overall numbers are small, the trend has been for an increase in the past decade,” the Health Protection Agency's TB expert, Dr Ibrahim Abubakar says. “We cannot be complacent. The cost of managing each case can stretch to several hundred thousand pounds. So it's significant - and while that person is infectious, other people can get TB. The larger numbers in Eastern Europe represent a failure to take action,” Abubakar adds.

TB is an airborne infection which still proves fatal in about 7 percent of cases. Almost half of patients with the multi-drug resistant form of the disease die. Dr Ogtay Gozalov, from the WHO's Europe office, says that, “It's not just the vulnerable populations like migrants and prisoners - all of us could be exposed. If member states don't take action now, there could be a dramatic situation in the future…Nobody in Europe is 100 percent protected from drug-resistant tuberculosis,” Gozalov says.

The $5-billion plan is intended to save about 120,000 lives and $12 billion worth of diagnosis and treatment expenses by 2015. Ruth McNerney, a TB expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, described WHO's plan as “overambitious.” But she warned there could be a bigger crisis in the future. “If we don't solve this soon, we could end up with so much drug-resistant tuberculosis that it will be like being back in the Victorian age when there were no good treatments,” she said.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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