For people in the developed world, hearing the words 'drug-resistant TB' does little more than project a notion alien to their lifestyle and the place where they live.
But as the number of cases of drug resistant TB mounts, and the disease begins to spread more aggressively in less developed countries, the risk to global health rises exponentially.
For those on the ground in underdeveloped countries trying to bring medical care or aid, TB is a menace as real if not more frightening than AIDS.
Medicines Sans Frontieres, has recently published findings that point to a dangerous rise in the number of drug resistant TB cases.
Only a few years ago, a case of drug resistant TB was sure to make the news, especially in developed or wealthy countries, where the menace was usually swiftly dealt with, either by treatment or by permanent quarantine.
But unseen to the eyes of those people who do not live in Africa, Asia or other places where poverty fosters disease, the deadly bug has been running rampant.
Even though 1.3 million people die of TB every year, and 8 million contract it, it always seems that the general perception remains that it is something curable with drugs, or not curable due to poverty and inaccessibility of medical care.
That however, has been changing for quite a while. Among those who die, there are many who are infected with drug resistant strains, or from strains that are hybrid, or mutated, or different in such a way from the treatable ones, that they render the victim completely helpless.
Tubercolosis, furthermore, is not just a disease of the lungs. It can affect other organs, including bone marrow and reproductive organs.
The uncontrolled spread of the drug resistant strain of TB however, is due to the lack of aid and coordination from the world health community and agencies to stop it where it is now out of control. And as the time passes, more and more strains are generated by the lack of medical monitoring and care in underdeveloped countries.
Half a million new cases of drug resistant TB are now recorded yearly. Because there is no antibiotic that can treat the disease, often alternatives are tried, which include homeopathic remedies and other traditional or ancient practices which are both difficult and inefficient, since only half of the patients treated this way survive. Whatever medication there is that in combination seems to have some effect is incredibly sickening and difficult to administer.
What the report from Medicines Sans Frontieres highlights too, is the fact that although the health authorities worldwide are woefully behind in contrasting the disease, the problem is not just local or of places and countries where poverty may be rampant, but it is, at its core a problem shared by everyone. Sooner or later, the disease will make inroads everywhere.
One of the problem with the unfettered spread of the bug, is the fact that medicines are not available to those who need them the most. Only 20% of the people infected have access to medical treatment. Those who do find a way to get treated, need to stick to a medical prescription regime that can last 2 years, and includes oral and injected drugs.
Some of the treatment for drug resistant TB is also toxic, in a way that makes the patient unwilling to continue. In some cases, the medicines can produce hallucinations or cause deafness.
The newest statistics also point to a new super TB bacteria, one that has multiple drug resistance, called MDR-TB. The cases of this latter infection, the deadliest, has doubled in the UK, in the past 10 years, something that should give thought to those who think that TB is a problem of faraway, poor countries. England, in fact, has already earned the moniker of 'TB capital of the world'.
New drugs are being developed as we speak, but none of them will be available soon. They have not even reached the clinical trial stage.
Medicines Sans Frontieres, and other advocates, are urging governments and pharmaceutical companies to speed up the process and to focus on research and development of new, safe and effective means of combating the disease.
Source : MNT/ 3.21.14