Thursday, February 28, 2008

Drug resistant TB

The World Health Organization published a report on drug resistant Tuberculosis this week. There's a report on it in the Journal Nature and lots of newspapers had articles.
I think this is one of those problems that we could fix with appropriate investment and effort. The problem is, as the report highlights, that we are not putting in the necessary investment:

WHO estimates that US$4.8 billion is needed for overall TB control in low- and middle-income countries in 2008, with US$1 billion for MDR-TB and XDR-TB. But there is a total financing gap of $2.5 billion, including a US$ 500 million gap for MDR-TB and XDR-TB.

Not investing the money to fix these problems now could get very expensive in the long run. Wired magazine asked WHO's 'Stop TB program' director Mario Raviglione why the US should be concerned about XDR-TB given that there4 have only been 49 cases here to date:

Even a couple cases a year costs the U.S. system tremendously. It costs several hundred thousand dollars to treat a case; they might need to have surgery, and the cost of drugs is tremendously high, as is the cost of following that person to make sure they're taking the drugs. Even a few casses a year is a very costly exercise. The best thing is to prevent MDR-TB and XDR-TB.

A billion dollars or two is a very small fraction of the federal budget - this is the sort of money politicians regularly lose down the back of the sofa. We should see spending on controlling drug resistant TB as an investment in the future.

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