News / Health

Drug-Resistant TB Threatens Europe

Selah Hennessy
In wealthy regions of the world like Western Europe, the infectious disease tuberculosis often has been seen as a health problem of the past - a deadly bacterial illness, but one that can be cured with antibiotic treatment. Now health experts say drug-resistant tuberculosis is on the rise: the numbers in Britain increased by 25 percent last year, and in Eastern Europe about one-third of all new TB cases are resistant to the key front-line drugs.

The Olallo Project in Central London was set up to help homeless people from Central and Eastern Europe get back on their feet by helping them find a place to live and get a job.

The charity has evolved, though, to serve another pressing need - tackling tuberculosis among Britain’s migrant community.

Tough medicine

Rimgaudas Planecinas from Lithuania has just finished an extended 18-month treatment to fight multi-drug-resistant TB, or MDR-TB. He found it difficult to describe the experience. Planecinas said the treatment made him unwell and affected his vision. He said he still suffers, even now that the treatment has ended.  

He said he has trouble with breathing and weakness. He still feels weak, he said.

In 2011, more than 400 cases of drug-resistant TB were reported in Britain. Compared to other parts of the world, it may not sound like a lot, but it was a 26 percent rise from the previous year.

David Barratt, manager of the Olallo Project, said TB seems to become tougher to beat every year.

“For the last few years the prevalence of multi-drug-resistance cases has been growing. We opened up the service just over a year ago now, initially expecting it to be for clients with normal TB looking for six months treatment," said Barratt. "And out of 14 referrals, 13 of them have had multi-drug-resistant TB.”

Person-to-person transmission

Some of Britain’s drug-resistant TB cases can be traced to the eastern half of the continent, where the world’s highest rates are found. TB normally becomes resistant to drugs when an antibiotics course is interrupted. But tests from Eastern Europe show that resistant forms of the disease now are being transmitted directly from person to person.

Ibrahim Abubakar is an expert on Tuberculosis from University College London.

“We think about one-third of people who have never been treated with antibiotics now have MDR-TB in those places [Eastern Europe]. And that is very worrying because it means that those people actually acquired MDR-TB from others, not because they used the drugs wrongly,” said Abubakar.

New technology is helping health experts identify drug-resistant TB more quickly in high-risk regions, like in South Africa, which along with Russia, India and China, accounts for two-thirds of drug resistant cases.

Lack of funding

Improved technologies and new drugs are in the pipeline, but Abubakar said there is not enough funding to stay ahead of the disease.

The World Health Organization said this month it has a $1.6-billion gap in funding for the treatment and prevention of TB. More than half of that is earmarked for sub-Saharan Africa.
“I think that we are far behind where we ought to be," said Abubakar. "Further investment would be necessary if we are going to tackle the worsening situation - especially if we are going to tackle multi- and extensively-drug-resistant TB.”

Without rapid advances, he said, TB could become incurable.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Cranksy from: USA
March 24, 2013 1:33 PM
I am grateful for the focus on multi-drug resistant TB in this article. Of course, I was distressed to learn it can be transmitted person to person. It is hard to know what emphasis to give the concluding sentence. As a headline, it would get more attention; but it may be too sensational.

by: Davis K. Thanjan from: New York
March 23, 2013 7:18 PM
The increased incidence of TB in UK is due to migration of people from the Eastern Europe and Asia with high incidence of TB. The incidence of TB in USA is mainly due to migration from countries in Africa and Asia.
The increased incidence of Multi-Drug Resistant TB (MDR-TB) is due to improper follow up of TB patients who refuse or avoid to follow the complete course of medication.
The Direct Observed Therapy (DOT) is supervision of dosage intake in the presence of a medical social worker. The DOT reduces the incidence of MDR-TB.
All MDR-TB patients should be under legally strict isolation and supervision of the patient, as it is done in the US. The lack of legal support for strict isolation of MDR-TB patients, poor medical supersion such as DOT and lack of facilities for strict isolation of MDR-TB patients increase the chances of spread of MDR-TB.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs