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WHO Official Says Newer, Better Drugs Needed to Fight TB

It’s estimated that one third of the world’s population, about two billion people, are infected with TB. About two million die of the disease each year. The head of the WHO’s Stop TB Partnership says progress is being made in getting treatment to those in need. But he warns better drugs are needed to fight new forms of tuberculosis.

Dr. Marcos Espinal says the Stop TB Partnership and the Global Drug Facility, in Geneva, have helped millions of people over the past six years.

“We have been able to put in countries about 10 million treatments for people with tuberculosis, using our grant mechanism and also our direct procurement service. And 78 countries have benefited from the Global Drug Facility, which is basically the main project of the Stop TB Partnership,” he says.

The facility provides drugs and supplies needed to diagnose and treat those with TB. It also provides technical assistance for drug management. Poor countries can apply for the aid online or through an e-mail application.

Dr. Espinal says while progress is being made in expanding treatment, new multi-drug and extremely drug-resistant forms of TB have emerged.

“MDR and XDR-TB are probably the most difficult challenge we are facing now, along with the co-infection of HIV. These are the two greatest challenges the international community is facing to address the TB problem. But XDR is even more scary because at the moment we don’t have drugs that could fight XDR-TB,” he says.

He says XDR-TB results when patients fail to complete the entire course of treatment, which can take up to six months. As a result, a resistance to current medications is developed.

He says, “The best tool we have to fight XDR-TB is preventing XDR by ensuring patients take their first line treatment supplied by the Global Drug facility.”

Dr. Espinal is bringing the warning about XDR-TB to US officials.

“This is one of the reasons we’re in Washington - to raise awareness. To tell the people of the US that by supporting the Global Drug facility they are supporting the fight against XDR-TB and Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis. Because if we get into a massive epidemic of XDR-TB, we will not be able to solve the problem so easily,” he says.

The head of the Stop TB Partnership says new and better TB drugs are expected by 2010, but drugs that work well against XDR-TB may take longer.

USAID, the US Agency for International Development, is one of the major supporters of the partnership and drug facility.