Half a million people fell sick with dangerous superbug strains of tuberculosis (TB) in 2012, but fewer than one in four were diagnosed, putting the rest at risk of dying due to the wrong medicines or no treatment at all.
Latest data from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which says drug-resistant TB is a “global health security risk”, showed a third of the estimated 9 million people who contract TB in any form each year do not get the care they need.
This has led to drug resistance spreading around the world at an alarming rate and has given rise to incurable strains of the bacterial infection – known as totally drug-resistant TB – which cannot be treated with any known medicines.
“Earlier and faster diagnosis of all forms of TB is vital,” said WHO director general Margaret Chan as the U.N. health agency published new TB data on Thursday. “It improves the chances of people getting the right treatment and being cured, and it helps stop spread of drug-resistant disease.”
Last year the WHO called for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) to be recognized as a public health crisis. It says the contagious, deadly superbug forms of the disease carry “grave consequences for those affected”.
Treating even regular TB is a long process. Patients need to take a cocktail of antibiotics for six months and many fail to complete the treatment.
This in turn has fuelled the emergence of drug-resistant TB – a man-made problem that has grown in the past decade because people sick with regular TB were either being given the wrong medicines or wrong doses or did not complete their treatment.