TUBERCULOSIS: Drug Resistant Strains Increasing Globally
Nearly 11% of the world's tuberculosis cases show resistance to some of the standard medications used to treat the disease, according to the "largest survey yet of drug resistance in tuberculosis," the Washington Post reports. Marking "World TB Day," the World Health Organization report will be released today at a meeting of health experts gathering in Amsterdam to discuss possible public health strategies to fight the disease. An estimated one-third of the world's population carries the TB bacterium, 10% of whom will develop active, contagious disease (Brown, 3/24). The report, which analyzed data from 72 "geographical settings," identified nine resistant TB "hot spots," where more than 3% of those seeking treatment for the disease showed some resistance to the medications. Those areas included regions in Estonia, Latvia, Russia, China, India, Iran and Mozambique. In addition, drug resistant TB cases jumped by 50% in Germany and Denmark. While there are five drugs commonly used to treat TB, experts say that many new cases involve strains that are resistant to at least four of those medications. In the United States and Western Europe, the cost of treating some of those resistant cases can reach upwards of $250,000 each.
The disease that was "nearly conquered" after the development of antibiotics following World War II has resurfaced, killing nearly 2 million people annually. Health experts point to the AIDS epidemic as one factor, as people with compromised immune systems are particularly susceptible to the air-borne disease. Experts say that increasing immigration also has contributed to the spread of many communicable diseases. But they contend that a backlash against immigration "would be a mistake." Kraig Klaudt, a WHO spokesperson, said, "People have this notion that you can will off your borders from germs. You can't" (McNeil, New York Times, 3/24). David Heymann, head of communicable diseases for WHO, said, "The reason we're having this meeting is so that we can get those resistant strains controlled where they're occurring. It's a responsibility of the whole world to work on this" (Washington Post, 3/24).
Gates to the Rescue
While health officials meet today, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will announce another series of health grants totaling $133 million, with one $25 million grant earmarked for the development of new TB drugs. "TB is a good example of how, if we don't pay attention to these diseases, we'll go backward," Bill Gates said. In addition, Reps. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Connie Morella (R-Md.) are expected to introduce a bill today that would provide $100 million this year for TB prevention and treatment (Sternberg/Manning, USA Today, 3/24). The United States has already doubled foreign aid grants for TB prevention to $22 million (New York Times, 3/24).