Probably one of the scarier and generally under-reported global health stories of the past few years has been the emergence of new strains of Tuberculosis that are resistant to regular treatment regimens. According to a World Health Organization report out today, in some areas of the world one fourth of all new cases of TB is of the hard-to-treat (and easy to spread) multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extensively drug resistant TB (XDR-TB) variety.
The report estimates that 440,000 people around the world had MDR-TB and about one third of those people succumbed to the disease in 2008. Almost 50% of the MDR-TB cases occurred in China and India. In Africa, there were an estimated 69,000 cases of MDR-TB in 2008.
How bad is this disease? Three years ago, the acclaimed photojournalist James Natchwey turned his lense on this disease — which, incidentally, is how I came to learn of it. The images are chilling.
The WHO report says MDR and XDR TB can be effectively contained with the right amount of focus and funding. Unfortunately, many of the 27 countries in which M/XDR-TB is most prevelant countries lack both.
The WHO estimates that there will be 1.3 million new cases of M/XDR-TB in these countries between now and 2015. The Stop TB Partnership’s goal is to diagnose and treat 80% of new M/XDR-TB cases. To do so will cost an estimated $16 billion over six years. Currently, only $280 million is available to fight M/XDR TB worldwide. This funding gap is problematic, to say the least. Unless we direct more funding toward fighting this disease it may proliferate — perhaps even reaching donor countries.