21 March 2013
Shawn Clackett

To Stop Tuberculosis In Its Tracks, Urgent Global Action Is Needed

An Article from Forbes Posted 3/19/2013 @ 8:00AM
By John Lechleiter, Contributor

TB is a Curable Disease

One of the most severe cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis in the United States has been reported in southern Texas: a strain of TB resilient to at least eight of the 15 drugs used to treat this deadly airborne disease. This report comes hot on the heels of news that South Africa has become the fourth country – after India, Iran and Italy – to register strains of TB that can overpower at least 10 of these drugs.

As we mark World TB Day on Sunday March 24, there can be no denying that TB, fueled by drug resistance, continues to pose a serious global health threat – one that must be urgently addressed. An outbreak of drug-resistant TB in New York City in the early 1990s cost more than $1 billion and killed 29 Americans. With resistance spreading, we need a renewed global commitment that combines public and private efforts to defeat TB.

According to the World Health Organization, more than eight million people became infected with TB and 1.4 million died in 2011 – that’s about the entire population of Greater Indianapolis, the city where I live. And between 2009 and 2011, drug-resistant TB cases doubled in the 27 most-affected countries.

Yet there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. New partnership models are marshaling the resources and knowledge required to produce new TB innovations that can outflank the disease – and ensure that patients benefit from them.

For example, Cepheid has developed a rapid diagnostic test, GeneXpert, which can identify TB – and the presence of drug-resistant bacteria – in about two hours. The U.S. government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are now collaborating in countries with high TB burdens to subsidize the purchase of these state-of-the-art tools.

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