Prominent global health groups — the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria — are warning that they need “significant funding” to combat the deadly strains of drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) that are spreading around the world.
In a joint statement, the two agencies explained that global health experts “urgently” need another $1.6 billion in annual support to help them track down and treat resistant forms of tuberculosis in developing nations, where millions of people still fall ill from TB every year:
“We are treading water at a time when we desperately need to scale up our response to multi drug-resistant TB,” said Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director general.
TB is often seen as a disease of the past — but the emergence of strains that can not be treated by various drugs has turned it into one of the world’s most pressing health problems over the past decade. Of all infectious diseases, only HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS) kills more people.
In 2011, 8.7 million people fell ill with TB and 1.4 million died of the disease. The WHO says as many as 2 million people may be suffering from drug-resistant strains by 2015. [...]
The WHO and the Global Fund said they had found an anticipated gap of $1.6 billion in annual international support for the fight against TB in 118 low and middle income countries. If this gap were filled, it could mean 17 million patients with TB and multi drug-resistant TB could be fully treated, saving about 6 million lives between 2014 and 2016, they said.
Treating TB is already complicated and costly, since patients need to take a cocktail of several antibiotics for a six-month period. Many patients don’t complete the full six-month treatment course — which has fueled the rise of deadly TB strains that are resistant to the drugs typically used against it, since the improper administration of antibiotics can render them less effective.
The WHO and its partner health agencies also recommended an additional $1.3 billion in funding to bolster TB research and encourage the development of new vaccines that will be more effective against the bacterial infection. Since it’s less profitable for the pharmaceutical industry to invest in developing new drugs, scientific innovation in this area often lags behind. But there’s still much work to be done when it comes to researching new TB treatments. Last month, a highly-anticipated TB vaccine trial, which scientists hoped could signal promise for the first new tuberculosis vaccine in 90 years, failed to achieve its desired results.
Unfortunately, tuberculosis isn’t the only global health threat of its kind. The treatments for common infections like gonorrhea, E. coli, and penicillin are also losing their effectiveness — and since new drugs aren’t being developed quickly enough to replace them, public health experts warn that an impending “antibiotic apocalypse” could eventually make them incurable.