Drug-resistant TB high in former Soviet Union

2 March, 2008

Cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) have peaked in parts of the former Soviet Union, reaching the highest rates ever recorded worldwide.

The rates could go up even higher leading to the "spread of the potentially fatal disease elsewhere," according to the findings of the largest-ever global survey of the problem, conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO).

About 1 in every 20 new cases of tuberculosis worldwide is now resistant to two or more drugs. In some regions of the former Soviet Union, the proportion is nearly 1 in every 5 cases. Also, the survey has found the presence of XDR-TB or Extensive Drug Resistant TB in 45 countries.

The WHO survey was conducted from 2002 to 2006.

The survey, the first held in four years, also endorses earlier predictions and points to the fact that governments in the erstwhile Soviet Union have miserably failed in controlling tuberculosis in many areas.

According to the WHO report, the affected countries have not invested enough to build, equip, and staff laboratories to detect the disease. Neither did they ensure that there are enough standard drugs nor monitor patients to make sure that they complete a full course of therapy.

If the full course of the prescribed drugs are not taken, the result would be the development of a strain of TB that is resistant to some drugs, a condition called MDR-TB or Multi-Drug Resistant TB.

Baku in Azerbaijan accounted for the highest rate of drug-resistant tuberculosis. It was found during the period of survey that, in Baku, 22.3% of new tuberculosis cases were resistant to the standard anti-TB drug treatment. This rate is much higher than the 14.2% recorded in Kazakhstan.

Drug-resistant TB is widespread in the Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang regions of China, where the rates are about 7.25%.

Drug-resistant tuberculosis is transmitted through coughing or sneezing. Symptoms of TB are fever, severe coughing, and weight loss.

If the drug-resistant form of TB is detected, it takes about two years to treat it with drugs that are 100 times as expensive as the first-line regimen, according to the World Health Organization, the health arm of the United Nations.

The WHO survey also brought to light distressingly high rates of drug-resistant TB in Moldova (19.4%), Donetsk in Ukraine (16%), Tomsk in Russia (15%), and Tashkent in Uzbekistan (14.8%).

The WHO survey, involving 90,000 tuberculosis patients in 81 countries, found that about 1 in 20 new cases of tuberculosis in the world is resistant to first-line drugs that is, 450,000 of the 9 million new tuberculosis cases that are detected each year.

In the United States, meanwhile, the prevalence of drug-resistant tuberculosis dropped by 1% between 1997 and 2006, from 2.4% in 1993, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.




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