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Drug Resistant TB Is More Widespread Than Previously Believed


A new study by the World Health Organization has found drug-resistant tuberculosis in virtually all of the 79 countries the organization surveyed around the world, with particularly high levels in countries of the former Soviet Union and some Chinese provinces. VOA's Jessica Berman reports.

About one third of the world's population is infected with the bacterium that causes tuberculosis and, every year, nine million people become contagious.

But misuse of two, potent antibiotics, izoniazid and rifampacin, has made them ineffective in treating the disease, causing multi-drug resistance, or MDR-TB.

The WHO estimates that in 2004, one-point-seven million people died of TB, many of whom could not be cured with either antibiotic.

Ten years ago, the world body began a project to study TB drug resistance around the globe.

In their latest report, investigators identified the emergence of more than 400-thousand new cases of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in the 79 nations it surveyed, making up about one percent of new TB cases in each country.

But in eight countries, including Kazakhstan and Latvia, and several Chinese provinces, the number of new multi-drug resistant TB cases exceeded six-point-five percent.

Investigators also say they found an increase in resistance to any antibiotic in Tomsk Oblast in Russia and Botswana, while MDR TB decreased in Hong Kong and Cuba.

Mario Raviglione headed the WHO's tuberculosis surveillance effort. Ravigiole says of antibiotic resistance..."That is a mistake that is generated by weak public health systems, weak clinical practices or, in come cases, malpractices."

By knowing the scope of the MDR-TB problem and where it is located, Raviglione says public health officials can begin to treat tuberculosis properly.

The results of the tuberculosis study were published in the medical journal the Lancet.