World TB Day: Two Million Die Every Year; Drug Resistance is Growing

MSF Calls for TB Treatment Research

New York, March 23, 2000 — There is an urgent need for practical and affordable treatments for tuberculosis. TB kills 2 million people each year. Almost all of these deaths occur in the developing world.

However, there is almost no research and development for new medicines. Despite a wealth of knowledge on TB, the last novel medicine was developed over 30 years ago and the last vaccine in 1923.

On the occasion of World TB Day 2000, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) urges governments to ensure there is greater research and development of medicines for infectious diseases like TB.

"Drug companies have shifted their agenda towards diseases that affect people in rich countries," says James Orbinski, M.D., president of MSF's International Council. "Even though 2 million people die every year from TB, it is almost totally ignored by the pharmaceutical industry."

Shorter and simpler TB treatments are needed. The most effective existing treatment - DOTS - has significant labor costs for governments and wage and social costs for patients that make it impractical in most settings.

"One of the reasons that so many people are dying of TB is that old treatments are too complex and need to be taken for a minimum of six months," explained Dr. Orbinski.

In addition, TB is becoming resistant to many of the standard drugs. Multi-drug resistant TB (MDR TB) costs between US $5,000 and 8,000 to treat. "MDR TB drugs must be made available at an affordable price. For the majority of patients, MDR TB is a death sentence," says Dr. Orbinski. In conjunction with the World Health Organization (WHO), MSF is negotiating an agreement with drug manufacturers to dramatically decrease the price of MDR TB drugs to around US $1,500 per patient.

According to Dr. Orbinski: "Governments have a political responsibility to promote, protect and ensure peoples' right to health care. In the face of a major public health emergency like TB, governments must either intervene in the market or establish public capacity for new drug development."