Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis Spreads as $1.6 Billion Needed

Low and middle-income countries need an additional $1.6 billion a year to fight tuberculosis, threatening progress made against the world’s second-deadliest infectious disease, health officials said.

About $3.2 billion will be spent annually through 2016 combating the disease in 118 such nations and $4.8 billion is needed, the World Health Organization and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria said in a joint statement today. The additional funds may enable treatment for 17 million people and save 6 million lives from 2014 to 2016, they said.

Tuberculosis killed 1.4 million people in 2011, the two Geneva-based organizations said. Among infectious diseases, only AIDS killed more. While TB can be cured with antibiotics, strains of the bacterium that resist most drugs afflict about 630,000 people globally, threatening to undermine a target of halving the TB death rate between 1990 and 2015.

“If we don’t act now, our costs could skyrocket,” Mark Dybul, the Global Fund’s executive director, said in the statement. “It is invest now or pay forever.”

About $2.6 billion is needed annually to expand diagnosis and treatment of TB, of which about $2 billion was available in 2011, according to the statement. There’s also a shortfall of $800,000 for the treatment of multidrug-resistant TB, which will require the greatest funding increase in the next few years.

In a study published in August, almost half of TB patients who had received prior treatment were resistant to a second-line drug, suggesting the disease may become “virtually untreatable.”

Johnson & Johnson won U.S. approval in December for its tuberculosis tablet Sirturo, the first new TB drug in 40 years. Otsuka Holdings Co. is also developing a new TB medicine.

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