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International Health Officials Urge Stronger Response to Drug-Resistant TB


International public health officials are calling for a stronger global response to drug-resistant tuberculosis. The call was made after American lawyer Andrew Speaker, who is infected with a form of tuberculosis that is resistant to most antibiotics, traveled aboard commercial airliners from the United States to Europe and back. VOA's Jessica Berman reports.

Officials at the World Health Organization estimate there are at least 400,000 new cases of tuberculosis each year that do not respond to two or more standard antibiotics.

Of these, WHO experts say 25,000 to 30,000 individuals are infected with extremely drug-resistant TB, or XDR TB, which is resistant not only to two or more standard antibiotics, but three or more of a newer class of antibiotics.

Andrew Speaker, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia and flew to Europe and back with his fiance, is infected with XDR TB. Speaker has been in isolation since his return.

European public health officials were not notified about the case until Speaker was back in the United States.

Mario Raviglione is Director of the Stop TB Department at the WHO. Although governments are considering ways to improve screening of people with infectious diseases at the border, Raviglione says that would be difficult to implement.

What is needed, accorded to Raviglione, are better measures to contain XTR TB, including rapid testing and new drugs.

"Here we are facing one of the highest burden diseases of the world, where the amount of money that is being spent, particularly internationally to help countries that are in need like African countries, is badly, badly insufficient," he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers have introduced legislation to prevent the spread of tuberculosis in the United States, and at least one hearing is scheduled to investigate the Andrew Speaker incident.

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