July 22, 2008

Asian Nations Fail to Curb Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis Spread: WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday said Asian nations had failed to rein in the rapid growth of highly lethal, drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis ( TB) and warned that the disease could soon become a serious threat to the region as a whole.

Only one percent of the estimated 150,000 people with multi- drug- resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) in WHO's Western Pacific Region, which covers East Asia and the Pacific, are getting appropriate treatment, the Manila-based WHO regional office said in a press release.

WHO said drug-resistant tuberculosis is of concerns in Mongolia, the Republic of Korea, Vietnam, China and the Philippines. The Western Pacific Region has the largest number of MDR-TB cases among WHO regional offices around the globe.

"Many countries do not have adequate laboratory facilities to detect MDR-TB. Even if they do, action may not be taken," WHO said. "Most MDR-TB patients in the region have little hope of acquiring appropriate drugs and die as a result."

MDR-TB is caused by mismanagement of standard TB treatment, but increased mobility, migration and crowded, urban housing, as well as poor health services and laboratory facilities, fuel its growth.

"MDR-TB does not stop at borders," warned Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "An uncontrolled local epidemic threatens the stability of global health security. TB anywhere is TB everywhere."

Each untreated tuberculosis patient could infect five to 10 people a year, WHO said.

"Once it enters into a country, it is difficult to get rid off, " Pieter Van Maaren, WHO's Western Pacific Regional Adviser for TB, said.

WHO said MDR-TB is likely to become an epidemic that would be costly and complex to control. Drugs to treat drug-resistant tuberculosis are about 100 times more costly than the regimen for normal TB.

"We are more vulnerable than ever to the MDR-TB threat," Omi said. "Countries must act responsibly to safeguard global health."

Despite the discovery of a cure half a century ago, TB remains the leading infectious disease killer of adults after HIV/AIDS.