War on TB Has Backfired: Experts

WHO slow to tackle drug-resistant TB
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Nov 23, 2012 6:02 AM CST

(Newser) – For years, the World Health Organization has pushed countries to battle tuberculosis by treating those patients who could be most easily cured. The strategy has a major flaw: It's allowed drug-resistant forms of the disease to flourish, experts say. Now the WHO is reworking its strategy—but much damage has already been done, the Wall Street Journal reports. In India, for instance, one new test suggests 6.6% of untreated sufferers have drug-resistant TB, far more than the 2% to 3% both India and the WHO have long suggested.

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At a Mumbai clinic, the figures are even higher: In preliminary testing, more than a quarter of patients had a form of the illness that resisted the most potent drugs. Yet not one lab in the city has the accreditation required to diagnose the toughest strains—meaning patients can't get the stronger drugs they need. The WHO is now encouraging countries to focus on treating regular TB and tougher strains at the same time. But such a comprehensive approach is more costly: Medicines that treat the former cost $9 a month in India; the monthly price tag to treat the latter is $2,000. A WHO official says the TB fight will cost developing countries $8 billion a year over each of the next three years—and they'll be short $3 billion annually. (Read more tuberculosis stories.)

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