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WHO: New Multidrug Resistant TB Treatment Could Be Game Changer

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - The logo of the World Health Organization is seen at the its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The WHO is recommending a new easier and cheaper treatment for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis that it says will save the lives of tens of thousands of people.

FILE - The logo of the World Health Organization is seen at the its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The WHO is recommending a new easier and cheaper treatment for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis that it says will save the lives of tens of thousands of people.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is recommending a new easier and cheaper treatment for multidrug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) that it says will save the lives of tens of thousands of people.

Every year, nearly 500,000 men, women and children worldwide develop multidrug resistant tuberculosis. And, each year, 190,000 of these people die. The WHO says the death rate is high because fewer than 20 percent of the patients are being properly treated.

Mario Raviglione, director of WHO’s Global TB Program, said a new test and a new treatment regimen could be a game changer for those with multidrug resistant TB.

Two recommendations

“These two new recommendations from WHO enable MDR-TB patients – one, to benefit from a test that will quickly identify who is eligible for the shorter MDR-TB treatment regimen and two, complete treatment in half the time at nearly half the cost of today,” Raviglione said.

The new diagnostic test yields results in just 24 to 48 hours, down from the three months or longer currently required.

FILE - A doctor examines a tuberculosis patient in a government TB hospital in Allahabad, India, March 24, 2014. A new treatment regimen for the disease costs less than $1,000 per patient and can be completed between nine and 12 months.

FILE - A doctor examines a tuberculosis patient in a government TB hospital in Allahabad, India, March 24, 2014. A new treatment regimen for the disease costs less than $1,000 per patient and can be completed between nine and 12 months.


The shorter treatment regimen costs less than $1,000 per patient and can be completed between nine and 12 months.

Conventional treatment programs for people with multidrug resistant TB take between 18 and 24 months to complete at a cost of $1,500 to $3,000.

Treatment outcome

Raviglione says that globally about 50 percent of those following this lengthy, costly treatment are cured. He said the other 50 percent either die or continue to live with this illness for years.

He said about one-quarter of the patients become discouraged and abandon the treatment regimen before it is ended.

“[They] abandon treatment because the treatment lasts, as you probably know, up to two years … with drugs that we all know are fairly toxic in a way. They have side effects and they are not really liked by patients who have to take them,” Raviglione said.

There are about 400 labs in developing countries that are able to conduct the new test and treatment programs. The WHO believes most people with multidrug resistant TB will be able to access the new options.

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