Wednesday, April 01, 2009

TB could "spiral out of control"

Officials from the World Health Organization are warning that tuberculosis cases could become drug resistant and "spiral out of control" They say that drugs will be of little help for the most recent version of medicines used to fight TB is 50 years old.

From this McClatchy Newspapers article that we found in the News and Observer, reporter Tim Johnson reports on the warnings issued at a health forum taking place in Beijing.

"The situation is already alarming, and poised to grow much worse very quickly," said Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization.

With Bill Gates at her side, Chan urged health officials from 27 countries at a three-day forum on drug-resistant TB to recognize the warning signs of what looms ahead, saying that traditional drugs are useless against some strains of tuberculosis and health care costs for treating those strains can be 100 to 200 times more than for regular tuberculosis.

"This is a situation set to spiral out of control. Call it what you may: a time bomb or a powder keg. Any way you look at it, this is a potentially explosive situation," Chan warned.

Gates, the software magnate turned philanthropist, said scientific overconfidence has led to a lack of innovation and urgency in fighting tuberculosis, which affects nine million people each year, killing nearly two million of them.

"The most commonly used diagnostic test is today more than 125 years old," Gates said. "The vaccine was developed more than 80 years ago, and drugs have not changed in 50 years.'

Later in the day, Gates offered a grant of $33 million to China's ministry of health to finance what he called an innovative pilot program for TB prevention that could be used in other nations. The program uses new systems to reduce pill intake, offers incentives for doctors to monitor TB, and funds development of new diagnostic tests.

China has about 1.5 million cases of TB each year. Under the pilot program, TB patients will get medicine kits with built-in reminder alarms as well as receive cell phone text messages reminding them to take their medicines.

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