The World Health Organisation have recently announced that in some parts of the world the fight against drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis is already being lost. It is not just in developing countries where the fight against the disease is a struggle, and it is estimated that in recent years the number of cases of drug-resistant TB has increased by around five percent in the UK.
Tuberculosis kills millions of people every year but it is an entirely treatable and curable disease, even the drug-resistant strains can be cured. However, misdiagnosis is often a problem and drug companies struggle to produce the right drugs for treating the disease.
Dr Paul Nunn is head of the response team to tuberculosis at the WHO and he has stated, “Tuberculosis is really a disease that is seen when the medical service makes a mistake. This happens, and when people contract the disease they need to take six months of medication and be carefully monitored to make sure that they are fully healed.
“In countries where the medical services not well funded or medical professionals are not adequately trained, this drug program can be unsuccessful. It is this failure in complete treatment that leads to the development of TB that is resistant to drugs.
“We estimate that around 10 people are infected by a person who is carrying undiagnosed tuberculosis each year. In addition to this the number of people being diagnosed with drug-resistant tuberculosis increases every year and this is largely because in many parts of the world the drugs are unaffordable.
If we do not successfully tackle the problem of drug-resistant TB, more countries are going to become overwhelmed by it. The fighter has already been lost against the disease in Russia and unless radical steps are taken, the same situation is going to occur in China and India.”
Tuberculosis is a condition that kills an enormous number of people every year but unfortunately the amount of funding put towards the disease by charities is often lower than other major diseases such as HIV. Dr Nunn commented about this, “For some reason tuberculosis has never had the same high profile as some other conditions, such as HIV.”
Tuberculosis was first discovered around 130 years ago by a German scientist and people were amazed that someone had finally found the cause of the disease which was responsible for killing one in every seven people in America and Europe. Despite the cause of the disease being known about for so long it’s still kills millions of people every year and most of these deaths occur in in the developing world.
While the disease was once a major problem for the UK now the number of cases is exceptionally low. Last year it was reported that were around 9000 new cases, the majority of these were in London, and they were mostly in people who were not born in the UK. There has recently been a suggestion that there is an upward trend in the number of cases of tuberculosis in the UK but this is something that scientists remain sceptical about, and are demanding further data.
The government have recently announced that they are cutting the amount of funding that is being put towards tuberculosis. Over the next five years the government expect to reduce their spending on the disease by £1 billion, and it is estimated this will affect around 3.5 million TB patients around the world. Many UK-based charities have urged the government to reinstate their spending on TB, as well as other diseases that are affecting people in fatal ways all over the world.