Asia heads record levels of drug-resistant tuberculosis, UN health agency says

Mother and son waiting for the results of TB tests in the Philippines

18 March 2010 – Drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) is now at record levels with Asia bearing the brunt of the epidemic, says the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) in a report released today that also calls for better diagnosis of the disease.

In some parts of the world, one in four people with TB becomes ill with a form of the disease that can no longer be treated with standard drugs, according to WHO’s Multidrug and Extensively Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis: 2010 Global Report on Surveillance and Response.

Nearly one-third of the 440,000 people with multidrug-resistant form of the disease (MDR-TB) in 2008 died, the report stated.

Almost half of the MDR-TB cases occurred in China, where the first nationwide drug resistance survey was conducted, and India. In Africa, estimates show 69,000 cases emerged, the vast majority of which went undiagnosed.

The report also shows a gap in efforts to control TB in Eastern Europe. In one region in north-western Russia, some 28 per cent of all people newly diagnosed with TB in 2008 had the multidrug-resistant form ¬– beating the unfortunate previous record of 22 per cent set by Azerbaijan in 2007.

But the regions of Orel, outside Moscow, and Tomsk in Siberia achieved what WHO termed “a remarkable decline” in MDR-TB in about five years. Neighbouring Estonia and Latvia also reversed rates of the disease, while Hong Kong and the United States were praised for achieving sustained successes in controlling MDR-TB.

Even in the presence of severe epidemics, governments and partners can turn around MDR-TB by strengthening efforts to control the disease and implementing WHO recommendations, the report noted.

In most other countries, progress remains slow with 60 per cent of cases reported as cured.

To intensify efforts, the report called for urgent improvements in laboratory facilities, and treatment with more effective drugs and shorter regimens than the current two years.

The report also noted the need for quicker diagnosis, as only 7 per cent of MDR-TB patients are believed to be diagnosed worldwide.

The report was released ahead of World Tuberculosis Day, which is marked annually on 24 March.

Halving the prevalence and death rates from TB is one of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) ¬– a list of eight goals for curbing poverty agreed to by world leaders in 2000.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for accelerated progress towards meeting their 2015 deadlines.

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