March 24, 2009
Ahead of World TB Day, World Health Organization officials on Monday urged Asian governments to enhance their TB control programs, particularly given the growing threat of drug-resistant strains of the disease.
Dr. Pieter van Maaren, based at WHO's Western Pacific headquarters in Manila, said that while 2008 estimates are not yet out, the rate of new infections in the region will "likely be in the same range" as in 2007. In China alone in 2007, there were 112,000 new cases of drug-resistant TB. The Philippines had up to 6,000 cases of drug-resistant TB that year, followed by Vietnam with 3,000-4,000 cases and Cambodia with fewer than 1,000 cases.
Drug-resistant TB is more difficult to diagnose and treat, and the few medicines available for it are costly and have side effects. It is "a man-made problem caused by insufficient or inappropriate treatment, a result of patients stopping treatment before they are cured," said van Maaren.
This can be seen in the Philippines and to some extent in China, where many TB patients resort to "self-medication" without receiving proper medical guidance, allowing TB bacilli to survive, said van Maaren. In contrast, Vietnam and Cambodia have lower rates in part because they have good control programs and also because powerful TB drugs were only introduced in those countries in the past decade, "so the TB bacilli did not have time to develop resistance," he said.
Shin Young-Soo, WHO's regional director, said that despite gains achieved by using recommended control strategies, effective TB control has been slowed due to health care infrastructures weakened from inadequate resources and chronic staff shortages.