UN unveils speedier tests in poorer nations for drug-resistant tuberculosis

30 June 2008
TB patient signs a register after taking his medication

The inhabitants of developing nations will find out whether they have been infected with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) in two days, not the standard two to three months, thanks to two new United Nations-backed initiatives.

Currently, it is estimated that only 2 per cent of cases of MDR-TB – which does not respond to first-line drugs – are being properly diagnosed and treated, and 400,000 new cases are reported every year, according to the UN.

The new schemes – launched today by the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the Stop TB Partnership, the international drug purchase facility UNITAID and the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) – hope to boost that proportion to over 15 per cent over the next four years.

In poorer countries, most TB patients are tested for MDR-TB only after it is found they do not respond to standard treatments, but do not receive crucial second-line drugs until their diagnosis is confirmed two months or more later.

One of the two projects announced today is a rapid molecular method, known as line probe assays, to detect the strain in less than two days, and it will be employed in 16 countries, including Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Myanmar and Uzbekistan.

The second entails increasing the supply of drugs to treat MDR-TB in 54 countries, and seeks to slash by 20 per cent the price of second-line drugs by 2010.


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