Print

Seeking Big Improvements in Drug Resistant TB Treatment

Geneva, 24 March 2015 – Drug resistant strains of tuberculosis, which are hard to detect and treat, killed an estimated 210,000 people in 2013 and now threaten to infect and kill millions more unless improved diagnostics and shorter treatments become widely available.

Every year all forms of tuberculosis (TB) kill more than 1.5 million people and at least 3 million new TB cases go undiagnosed. 

As countries around the world mark World TB Day under the theme “Reach the 3 million”, UNITAID and its partners are underscoring their efforts to promote use of new diagnostic techniques and drugs that will make it possible to more than halve treatment times for MDR-TB, a disease which infected an estimated 480,000 people in 2013.

A report by the United Kingdom’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Global TB, published today, has warned that up to 75 million people could lose their lives to multi drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) over the next 35 years if the world fails to tackle drug resistance.

The parliamentary report said that treatment for drug resistant TB is so “complex, expensive and toxic” that less than half of people successfully complete treatment. If treatment courses for MDR-TB were shorter and less arduous, more patients would complete treatment and fewer cases of resistance would develop, the report noted.

UNITAID is now investing $60 million with Partners in Health, Medicins Sans Frontieres and Interactive Research and Development to make new, more effective medicines available and improve patients’ chances of being cured from 48% to 70%, and drive a sharp fall in new infections. 

Up to 50 different MDR-TB medicine combinations are in use globally, usually involving a gruelling two-year course of multiple pills daily and injections with harmful side effects such as deafness. The new drugs have the potential to make it possible to treat the disease in less than nine months and to eliminate the need for injections.

The spread of drug-resistant TB strains has been fuelled by patients receiving intermittent medication or failing to complete treatment. Rising numbers of patients are also now contracting MDR-TB from people with a drug-resistant strain of the disease.

Over the next four years, 2,600 patients will be enrolled on treatment with the new TB drugs in 17* countries through the UNITAID investment. A more user-friendly and effective treatment regimen will also be devised following a clinical trial with 600 patients.

MDR TB center Alert Hospital IMG 0418BSS

“UNITAID’s investment will help make MDR-TB treatment more effective and easier-to-bear, thereby helping patients to be better treated and to halt the disease’s spread” said Lelio Marmora, Executive Director UNITAID.  “This new investment is part of our broader TB portfolio that is introducing innovations for a more effective global response to the disease.”

He said new medicines to treat drug resistant TB were urgently needed, in part due to the three-fold increase in new cases diagnosed since 2009. 

UNITAID has also been investing to expand use of up new state-of-the-art diagnostic technologies such as GeneXpert®, which can shorten the time to diagnose drug resistant forms of TB from weeks to only a matter of hours.

Related article: UNITAID joins health partners to launch new treatment for drug-resistant TB


*Peru, Lesotho, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Georgia, Armenia, Kyrgyszstan, Swaziland, India, Myanmar, Belarus, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, DPRK, and Nepal