The World Health Organization warned on Thursday that resistance of tuberculosis strains to antibiotics is growing, threatening the life and health of people around the world who have been diagnosed with the often-fatal infectious disease spread by mycobacteria.
WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan said in Geneva before World TB Day on March 24 that almost half a million people fell ill with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) in 2012, yet less than 25 percent of these people were diagnosed, mainly due to a lack of access to quality diagnostic services. The disease is diagnosed in Israel, mainly among foreigners or immigrants from countries where TB is endemic, but even here, bacteria are becoming more resistant to existing antibiotics, which are given over a period of months to defeat the mycobacteria.
“Earlier and faster diagnosis of all forms of TB is vital,” said Chan. “It improves the chances of people getting the right treatment and being cured, and it helps stop spread of drug-resistant disease.” An innovative international project in 27 countries is making promising progress in diagnosing MDR-TB, she continued. The project known as EXPAND-TB (Expanding Access to New Diagnostics for TB), financed by UNITAID, helped to triple the number of MDR-TB cases diagnosed in participating countries.
The theme for World TB Day 2014 is “Reach the 3 Million”. One third of the estimated nine million people falling ill with TB each year do not get the care they need. In many countries, it is hard for people to access diagnostic services – particularly for MDR-TB. Some countries have only one central laboratory, which often has limited capacity to diagnose MDR-TB. In some cases, patient samples have to be sent to other countries for testing. Moreover, traditional diagnostic tests can take more than two months to get results. Chan noted that the situation is beginning to change, as new technologies can rapidly diagnose TB and drug-resistant TB in as little as two hours and prices are going down. Between 2009 to 2013, the number of MDR-TB cases diagnosed in the 27 countries tripled, with 36 000 diagnosed in 2013 alone.
“The gap in access to TB diagnostics and care is far from filled, but is narrowing. With the impetus of modern laboratories, we are on the right track finally to handle MDR-TB,” said Dr Mario Raviglione, director of WHO’s Global TB Program.