Confronting TB Drug-Resistance

At its most recent board meeting, World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan said, “Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a danger of the utmost urgency…We have a global action plan. What we need now is the action.”

As a cornerstone of the issue of antimicrobial resistance, it is critical that we elevate multidrug-resistant TB as a national policy priority within countries. That is why The Union, in partnership with the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP), is hosting a side-event this week at the 69th World Health Assembly in Geneva.

The need to address TB—and, in particular, its dangerous drug resistant forms—has never been greater. Last year, TB became the deadliest infectious disease in the world, killing 1.4 million. Drug resistant strains of TB continue to be a problem, killing hundreds of thousands.

Last week, the AMR Review—a groundbreaking report commissioned by UK Prime Minister David Cameron and led by Lord Jim O’Neill—projected that, if left unabated, MDR-TB will account for one quarter of deaths from all drug-resistant infections globally by 2050. This equates to 75 million premature deaths.

Drug resistance is pernicious. As more and more are exposed, an increasingly heavy burden is placed on health care systems and on families and communities that are impacted.

In many cases, healthcare workers aren’t trained to look for drug-resistant TB, which leads misdiagnosis and mistreatment: once you begin treatment with drugs you are already resistant to, you become more susceptible to developing resistance to other drugs.

Drug-resistance also emerges when healthcare systems fail to ensure that patients treated for TB are supported so that they can ingest every dose of medicine and complete a full regiment of high-quality treatment.

In other words, this is a human-made problem—and it’s now up to us to solve it.

We have to increase our focus on diagnosing and treating everyone with MDR-TB, and providing them the support they need to complete treatment. Just as importantly, we need to ensure that we get the basics of TB care right. We must ensure that all people living with TB infection and TB disease are able to access quality treatment that prevents the emergence of drug-resistance in the first place.

The World Health Assembly this week provides a vital space for advocacy. The discussions we’re carrying out here will lay the ground for bolder action against MDR-TB—and will set the stage for the Union World Conference in Liverpool this October, where the theme will be Confronting Resistance: Fundamentals to Innovations.