Drug-resistant tuberculosis threatens the Western Pacific Region

News release

Manila, 22 March 2007—Tuberculosis will be 200 times more costly to treat and might even become almost impossible to cure unless bolder steps are taken to tackle drug-resistant tuberculosis, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

Drug-resistant TB is widespread in the Western Pacific Region. High levels of drug-resistance have been documented in countries such as China, Mongolia and the Philippines. In some countries, the management of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) is not yet available or has failed to meet acceptable standards.

WHO warned that failure to address this threat will mean more deaths and chronic cases of MDR-TB and more drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB). XDR-TB develops when the second–line drugs used to treat drug-resistant TB are misused or mismanaged, thus becoming ineffective.

“Just one case is enough to set alarm bells ringing,” said Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, referring to deadly XDR-TB, which has begun to wreak havoc in several parts of the world, including Western Pacific Region. A rapid surge in the number of XDR-TB cases is likely if MDR-TB is not controlled quickly, Dr Omi said.

“Drug-resistant TB: Treat it. Prevent it”, the theme of this year's World Stop TB Day, brings home the message that instituting proper treatment is the most effective way to head off drug-resistant TB.

Nearly 2 million people in the Western Pacific Region develop TB every year. Dr Omi warned that unless rapid and systematic action is taken to combat tuberculosis, MDR-TB threatens to reverse the gains already made in TB control. He urged countries to equip their national TB programmes with innovative and robust strategies in treating and preventing drug-resistant TB.

Dr Omi urged Member States to:

  • put in place a strong TB drug-resistance surveillance system;
  • establish adequate laboratory capacity to diagnose MDR-TB;
  • make services available for MDR-TB treatment free of charge; and
  • put in place infection-control policies to prevent the transmission of drug-resistant TB in health facilities, including protecting people at risk, such as health workers and people with HIV/AIDS.

Treating only a small proportion of multidrug-resistant TB will not be sufficient to stop the spread of MDR-TB, Dr Omi said. Close to US$ 2 billion is needed to implement high-quality TB control in the Region, with more than $200 million needed for MDR-TB.

Drug-resistant TB, which does not respond to first-line anti-TB drugs, is just as easily transmissible as ordinary TB and is spread mostly through air from one person with drug-resistance TB to another. People can develop or acquire drug-resistant TB because of incorrect, incomplete drug regimens or poor-quality drugs, as well as by being infected with TB bacteria that are already resistant to anti-TB drugs.

For more information, please contact, Dr Pieter van Maaren, WHO Regional Adviser, Stop TB and Leprosy Elimination, at (+632) 528 9706 or e-mail: vanmaarenp@wpro.who.int.

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