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The Global Threat of Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis - Are We Doing Enough?

The Global Threat of Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis – Are We Doing Enough?

Tuberculosis (TB), an infectious lung disease caused by the mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria, causes 1.8 million deaths annually and remains one of the leading causes of deaths worldwide.1 TB is transmitted through the air when infected individuals spit, sneeze, speak or cough.

While the disease is preventable and curable, the emergence of multidrug- and extensively drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB and XDR-TB, respectively) pose a major threat to TB control and care. Rapid and accurate diagnostics are needed to detect active and drug-resistant TB, link those infected to treatment, and meet the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ending the TB epidemic by 2030.

Drug resistant strains of TB arise when TB treatments are incorrectly prescribed or patients stop treatment prematurely. TB bacteria can develop resistance to rifampicin and isoniazid, two powerful first-line treatments, leading to MDR-TB. XDR-TB is an even more severe form of the disease that does not respond to second-line drugs. The spread of these forms of TB represents a significant public health danger because healthcare providers are forced to prescribe expensive second-line therapies that often leave sufferers without any future treatment options. Global statistics on drug-resistant TB are alarming: An estimated 480,000 people developed MDR-TB in 2015.2 Worldwide, only 20 percent of patients newly eligible for MDR-TB treatment initiate it and the MDR-TB treatment success rate is only 52 percent.3

The spread of these forms of TB represents a significant public health danger because healthcare providers are forced to prescribe expensive second-line therapies that often leave sufferers without any future treatment options.

Rapid diagnosis and proper treatment protocols are critical to preventing infection of new people, reducing additional drug-resistant TB and ensuring appropriate treatment of MDR-TB patients, whose life expectancies can actually be shortened if they are not correctly treated. Recent strides in rapid TB diagnostics will improve efforts to roll back MDR- and XDR-TB. Today, tests exist that can detect MDR-TB, second-line drug resistance and TB cases among those co-infected with HIV, which are more difficult to diagnose.

As drug resistance often emerges in geographic areas with weak TB control programs, it is imperative that more resources are dedicated to strengthening these programs and filling gaps in diagnosis and treatment. Funding for TB care and prevention fell $2 billion short in 2016 in low- and middle-income countries, where TB burden is the highest.

The global community has launched an accelerated effort to stop TB, adopting the World Health Organization’s End TB Strategy, which calls for the dramatic reduction of TB deaths and new cases. Meeting these goals will require increased usage of rapid and high-performing point-of-care tests in the most heavily affected countries.

  1. World Health Organization (WHO). Tuberculosis. Fact sheet. October 2016. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs104/en/. Accessed on February 16, 2017.
  2. WHO. Tuberculosis. Fact sheet. October 2016. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs104/en/. Accessed on February 16, 2017.
  3. WHO. Global Tuberculosis Report, 2016. October 2016.

   

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