Asian Nations Urged to Control TB Threat

2008-07-24 21:21 692

TOKYO, July 25 /Xinhua-PRNewswire/ -- The World Health Organization (WHO) warned today that the failure of Asian nations to combat the spread of highly lethal, drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis (TB) is a threat to global public health security.

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Only 1% of the estimated 150 000 people with multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) in WHO's Western Pacific Region, which covers East Asia and the Pacific, are getting appropriate treatment. Each untreated TB patient could infect five to 10 people a year.

MDR-TB raises the risk of a TB epidemic that would be costly and complex to control. Drugs to treat MDR-TB are about 100 times more costly than the regimen for normal TB.

"MDR-TB does not stop at borders," warned Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "An uncontrolled local epidemic threatens the stability of global health security. TB anywhere is TB everywhere."

With 2 billion people traveling on airlines every year, and the internal migration of millions, diseases are on the move.

"We are more vulnerable than ever to the MDR-TB threat," Dr Omi said. "Countries must act responsibly to safeguard global health."

Dr Omi was speaking as health ministry officials from countries with a high burden of TB, global TB experts and representatives of donor agencies meet in Tokyo, Japan, to review progress and plan policy at the 6th Technical Advisory Group Meeting to Stop TB in the Western Pacific Region.

Despite the discovery of a cure half a century ago, TB remains the leading infectious disease killer of adults after HIV/AIDS. In Cambodia, China, the Philippines and Viet Nam -- some of the countries most affected by TB -- it is a top killer.

MDR-TB is a serious problem in China and the Philippines, and of concern in Mongolia, the Republic of Korea and Viet Nam. The Western Pacific Region has the largest number of MDR-TB cases among WHO regions, although the concentration of cases is higher in parts of Eastern Europe.

While Eastern Europe's situation has been well-recognized and is being addressed, MDR-TB -- but not standard TB -- is severely neglected in the Western Pacific Region.

"No country in the Region is rushing to fight MDR-TB," said Dr Pieter Van Maaren, WHO's Western Pacific Regional Adviser for TB. "There is a waiting list for treatment in every country. In some cases, available funds are not being used due to bureaucratic barriers or poor awareness of what can be done. The lack of knowledge on MDR-TB has even led to patients being prescribed the wrong drugs, especially in the private sector."

Many countries do not have adequate laboratory facilities to detect MDR-TB. Even if they do, action may not be taken. In one country, half the MDR-TB cases detected three years ago have yet to be treated. Most MDR-TB patients in the Region have little hope of acquiring appropriate drugs and die as a result.

"It comes down to complacency. There needs to be a change of attitude," said Dr Van Maaren. "Politicians should commit to action. They need to wake up and realize what is at risk. This is a disease that you can transmit in a cough to your children."

Earlier this year, WHO released a report showing the highest levels of drug resistance ever recorded. MDR-TB now accounts for 5% of the 9 million new TB cases worldwide. In China, one of every 10 new TB cases is MDR-TB.

MDR-TB is caused by mismanagement of standard TB treatment, but current trends -- mobility, migration and crowded, urban housing -- are fuelling it. Poor health services and laboratory facilities also exacerbate it.

While MDR-TB may not cause an immediate outbreak of disease, it has a heavy, long-term toll. "This is a chronic, lingering, wasting disease. It is similar to what AIDS was a decade ago," Dr Van Maaren said. "It causes a slow death. Once it enters into a country, it is difficult to get rid of."

Like HIV, MDR-TB also kills working-age adults and causes poverty.

Mismanagement of MDR-TB can result in extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB), a form of TB resistant to all the most effective drugs. XDR-TB has been described as "virtually uncurable". A 2005 outbreak of XDR-TB in South Africa killed 52 of 53 TB patients co-infected with HIV.

Note to Editors:

The 6th Technical Advisory Group Meeting to Stop TB in the Western Pacific Region will he held 21-24 July. It will be followed by a one-day international TB symposium co-hosted by the Government of Japan and Japanese NGO to promote international cooperation to fight TB (commencing 13:00, 24 July 2008).

The symposium will be attended by Her Imperial Highness Princess Akishino, who is president of the Japan Anti-Tuberculosis Association (JATA), as well as Mr Yuji Tsushima, Chairman, Parliamentary Group for Promoting "Stop TB Partnership" (Former Minister of Health and Welfare); Ms Kyoko Nishikawa, Senior Vice-Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare; and Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr Osamu Uno. Also attending is Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO's Western Pacific Regional Director.

For further information or to arrange interviews, please e-mail: or Telephone inquiries can be made at: + 632 528 9991/93

Journalists in Japan can also contact WHO at +639285012064 or Ministry of Health Labour and Welfare at +81-3-3595-2404.

Source: World Health Organization