The World Health Organization today expressed concern about the emergence of virulent strains of tuberculosis that are virtually untreatable with existing drugs and called for the strengthening of prevention measures.
Extensive Drug Resistant TB (XDR-TB) is resistant to not only the two main first-line TB drugs – isoniazid and rifampicin – but also to three or more of the six classes of second-line drugs.
Recent findings from a survey conducted by WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that XDR-TB has been identified in all regions of the world but is most frequent in the countries of the former Soviet Union and in Asia.
“XDR-TB poses a grave public health threat, especially in populations with high rates of HIV and where there are few health care resources,” said WHO in a statement issued in Geneva.
Separate data on a recent outbreak of XDR-TB in an HIV-positive population in Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa found alarmingly high mortality rates, said WHO. 52 out of 53 patients identified with XDR-TB died within 25 days on average, including those benefiting from antiretroviral drugs.
WHO noted that its recommendations for managing drug-resistant strains of TB include strengthening basic TB care, ensuring prompt diagnosis and treatment of drug resistant cases, increasing collaboration between HIV and TB control programmes, and boosting investment in laboratory infrastructure.
On Thursday, WHO will join other TB experts at a two-day meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, to assess the response required to critically address TB drug resistance, particularly in Africa.
From United Nations