WHO Hails Success in Diagnosing MDR-TB

In conjunction with this year’s World TB Day, the agency reports 27 countries are making good progress in diagnosing multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.

Almost 500,000 people became ill with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) during 2012, but less than 25 percent of them were diagnosed with it, mainly because of a lack of access to quality diagnostic services, according to the World Health Organization. In conjunction with World TB Day 2014 on March 24, the organization reports that an international project is allowing 27 low- and middle-income countries to make promising progress in diagnosing MDR-TB. These countries carry 40 percent of the global MDR-TB burden, according to WHO.

The project is called EXPAND-TB (Expanding Access to New Diagnostics for TB) and is financed by UNITAID, which provided $87 million in 2009 to support it. It helped to triple the number of MDR-TB cases diagnosed in participating countries.

"Earlier and faster diagnosis of all forms of TB is vital," said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO's director-general. "It improves the chances of people getting the right treatment and being cured and it helps stop spread of drug-resistant disease."

The theme for World TB Day 2014 is "Reach the 3 Million," signifying that one-third of the estimated 9 million people falling ill with tuberculosis annually don't get the care they need. In many countries, according to WHO, it is hard for people to access diagnostic services – particularly for MDR-TB. "Some countries have only one central laboratory, which often has limited capacity to diagnose MDR-TB. In some cases, patient samples have to be sent to other countries for testing. Moreover, traditional diagnostic tests can take more than two months to get results."

The new technologies can diagnose TB and drug-resistant TB in only two hours, however.

"The MDR-TB story is being transformed by a fertile mix of collaborators, including those working on access to diagnosis," said Philippe Meunier, the French government's ambassador for addressing HIV/AIDS and communicable diseases. "Increased capacity and reduced prices mean more patients can be served and global health risks would be diminished."

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