Fighting Tuberculosis

By Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer
Executive director
Access to Essential Medicines Campaign
Doctors Without Borders

To the Editor:

Drug-Resistant TB Rates Soar in Former Soviet Regions” (news article, Feb. 27) brings important attention to the worldwide disaster of resistant TB. As multiple-drug-resistant TB rates increase, though, so does the gap between those who are treated and those who are not.

Last year, only 30,000 people with MDR-TB were treated, while the World Health Organization estimates there are 490,000 new cases every year. Equally important is the fact that people suffering from TB and clinicians trying to treat them are desperate for new diagnostics and medicines, particularly for MDR-TB and HIV-TB co-infection. Most of today’s TB drugs were developed in the 1950s and 60s, and the pipeline to ensure our ability to treat TB in the future has too few drugs in development.

The newest diagnostic techniques still rely on sophisticated laboratories that simply do not exist in many impoverished countries. Even the best-run MDR-TB programs still record high death, failure and default rates. The further spread of extremely drug-resistant TB is inevitable under these conditions.

Financing for research and development must be increased at least five-fold to have any chance of making a substantial impact in the coming years. We must continue to do the best we can with existing options, but one thing is clear: this catastrophic situation will not be controlled unless there are new diagnostics and medicines.

Tido von Schoen-Angerer
Geneva, Feb. 28, 2008

The writer is executive director, Doctors Without Borders’ Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines.

Original article: Drug-Resistant TB Rates Soar in Former Soviet Regions