The looming threat of an untreatable strain of tuberculosis emerging
as the disease becomes ever more drug resistant will occupy the minds
of some 3 000 experts at a conference in Cape Town this week.
Though curable, more than 1.5 million people die of tuberculosis
every year and growing numbers of patients do not react to standard
drugs, the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease
said in a statement ahead of its 38th world conference on lung health.
"Despite international efforts, the increasing incidence of
multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and extremely drug-resistant
tuberculosis (XDR-TB) threatens to push that number higher," they said.
The five-day conference, which will draw delegates from more than
100 countries, is being held as 37 countries world-wide have recorded
cases of XDR-TB - a near incurable form of the disease.
"There is an urgent need for a TB vaccine and new drugs and
diagnostic tools," said the organisers.
TB, HIV claiming thousands of lives
No new TB drugs have been developed in more than 40 years and
existing methods of testing are too slow to combat the extreme form of
the disease as the link between HIV and TB claims an ever-increasing
number of lives.
Harvard TB researcher Carole Mitnick told a press conference in
Johannesburg last week that an estimated 500 000 new MDR-TB cases were reported globally every year.
"So why hasn't anything been done? The perception has been that the
treatment for MDR-TB is too hard and too toxic, therefore the
alternative in resource-poor settings has been to just isolate people, hope that they don't transmit to anyone else, and let them die."
Dr Eric Goemaere, head of the Doctors Without Borders mission in
Khayelitsha, Cape Town, explained that patients with MDR-TB failed to
react positively to drugs that are usually prescribed in the initial
stages of the disease.
"When they develop resistance to four drugs they become XDR
which basically means there is hardly anything left to treat them
Resistance to TB drugs could develop when patients failed to take
their medication as prescribed, or through direct transmission from
person to person.
Lack of treatment could be deadly
Tuberculosis was the leading cause of death among about 24.7 million HIV-positive people living in sub-Saharan Africa, said the union.
"TB is curable and HIV is manageable with appropriate treatment, but without either, patients will die."
A third of the world's 40-million people with HIV/Aids are also
believed to have TB.
Prices cut on treatment tool
Ahead of the conference, a United States-based medical technology
company announced it would slash the price of a tuberculosis
diagnostic tool for poor countries with high TB burdens.
Developing nations would be able to purchase the BD BACTECTM MGITTM 960 system at around three dollars per test - a fifth of the price
paid by the United States and Europe, BD vice-president Krista Thompson.
Thirty-nine countries would benefit from the cut price for
technology the company claimed was more accurate and quicker at
diagnosing TB and its drug resistant strains. – (Mariette le Roux, Sapa)
Multi-drug resistant TB