The United Nations-backed Stop TB partnership announced today that it has supplied anti-tuberculosis drug treatments to 10 million people in 78 countries over the past six years.
These drugs have been provided by the Global Drug Facility, which is part of the partnership lead by the UN World Health Organization (WHO), which envisions a tuberculosis-free world where the first children born this millennium will see the eradication of the disease in their lifetime.
“This is an important milestone, because getting anti-TB drugs to people who need them and making sure they complete their treatment is the only way to break the back of the epidemic,” said Marcos Espinal, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB partnership. “Together with countries and partners we are moving steadily towards our target of treating 50 million TB patients between 2006 and 2015.”
In 2005, 8.8 million new cases were reported, with 1.6 million people dying from the disease. In the majority of cases, tuberculosis is drug-sensitive, or can be cured with four standard, or first-line, drugs. The partnership’s 10 million mark was reached in making available such first-line drugs.
Not completing treatment with first-line medications and the use of counterfeit or lesser-quality drugs can result in the development of a multidrug-resistant form of tuberculosis. This type of the disease, which can be spread from person to person, takes longer to treat and requires second-line drugs, which are far more expensive and have potentially serious side effects.
When such second-line drugs are misused or mismanaged, an even more serious type known as extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis can develop, which is also transmitted from person to person. Treatment options for this type are limited, resulting in an increased risk of death.
Since late 2006, the Global Drug Facility has provided second-line drugs to countries which the partnership has deemed will meet its technical standards and will use the drugs properly.
The Facility, which distributes more anti-tuberculosis drugs free of charge to poor countries than any other group, provides direct technical assistance on the management of medications. It also acquires stocks of drugs for countries which can afford them, and will ship them on short notice when crises such as humanitarian disasters or armed conflicts make them unavailable.