Friday marks the United Nations’ World Tuberculosis Day, aimed at raising awareness of a disease that kills an estimated 1.8 million people every year. Six countries account for nearly two-thirds of the cases: India, Indonesia, China, Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa.
The date commemorates the day in 1882 when German scientist Dr. Robert Koch announced that he had discovered the cause of the disease, the TB bacillus. It remains the most deadly infectious disease in the world.
“Every single day 5,000 people lose their lives because of tuberculosis. TB hits particularly those vulnerable populations that include migrants, refugees, prisoners, people who are marginalized in their societies,” said Mario Raviglione, the World Health Organization’s Global Tuberculosis Program Director.
On World Tuberculosis Day, Doctors Warn of New Drug-Resistant Bacteria
In recent years drug-resistant strains of TB have taken hold around the world, posing an increasingly urgent public health threat. These strains often go undetected and are spread across populations.
“In South Africa, for example, TB is the commonest cause of death and the disease is out of control in Africa,” said Dr. Keertan Dheda, head of the Division of Pulmonology at the University of Cape Town.
But there is new hope as a small number of new drugs have become available.
“For the first time after about four to five decades, we have two drugs. One is called bedaquiline,” Dheda said. “That has now been registered in South Africa and is available to treat many patients with drug-resistant TB. And there’s another new drug called delamanid, that’s not yet licensed in South Africa but is available in other countries.”
New drugs must be used carefully
In a report published in the Lancet medical journal, Dheda and his co-authors warn that the effectiveness of these new drugs could be rapidly lost if they aren’t used correctly.
“There are several case reports globally of patients that have already become resistant to both delamanid and bedaquiline. We need to change our strategy,” Dheda said. “We need to go out into the community and find these cases. We have to address the major drivers of TB, which are poverty and overcrowding, nutritional deprivation, alcohol abuse, cigarette smoking and biomass fuel exposure,” Dheda added in a VOA interview Thursday.
The report warns the new drugs must be prescribed as individually targeted treatments with clear dosing guidelines, to prevent further resistant TB strains from emerging.