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Drug-resistant tuberculosis a serious health threat – WHO

By Asma’u Ahmad

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that there was the critical need for research and development of new antibiotics to tackle the threat of drug-resistant tuberculosis.

The Director-General of WHO, Dr. Margaret Chan, said on Wednesday that in the past 50 years, only two new antibiotics addressing drug-resistant tuberculosis have made it to the third phase of trials.

Dr. Chan said these medicines were tested on patients to assess efficacy, effectiveness and safety, and would still have to pass the final stage before they could be sold. “Addressing drug-resistant tuberculosis research is a top priority for WHO and for the world. More than 800 million dollars per year is currently necessary to fund badly needed research into new antibiotics to treat tuberculosis,” the WHO chief said.


Dr. Margaret Chan

Drug-resistant tuberculosis is a condition in which the disease causing organism is resistant to at least isoniazid and rifampin, the two most potent tuberculosis drugs, she explained.

According to her, there are an estimated 580,000 cases and 250,000 related deaths in 2015, about 14 per cent of all tuberculosis related deaths for the year.

She added that only 125,000 were started on treatment, and just half of those people were cured.

She recalled that during a meeting of world leaders in September 2016, then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that drug-resistant tuberculosis had been identified in 105 countries.

According to her, the disease is treatable and curable by using second-line drugs.

“However, second-line treatment options are limited and require extensive chemotherapy – up to two years of treatment – with medicines that are expensive and toxic,” she added.

The UN health agency chief said series of high-level global meetings on tuberculosis have been scheduled.

“Drug-resistant tuberculosis and research will be major themes at the WHO conference in Moscow this coming November. It will also be a key agenda item at the UN General Assembly high-level meeting on tuberculosis in 2018,” Dr. Chan said.

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