India, China has most number of MDR-TB patients: WHO

A WHO report suggests India, China have most number of patients in the world with TB (MDR-TB) disease.

Geneva: India and China have the highest number of patients in the world with the killer multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) disease, according to a WHO report released Wednesday.

Annually around 1 million people die from TB with MDR-TB and XDR-TB (extensive drug-resistant-TB) claiming most of the lives. Both India and China have sufficiently scaled up DOTS programme that is internationally recommended approach to contain TB.

"In terms of the burden of the MDR-TB, China and India have the highest incidence in the world," said Pillippe Glaziou, a senior epidemiologist at the WHO.

"There is an urgent need to scale-up the treatment for MDR-TB patients who are easily prone HIV/AIDS," he told reporters.

WHO chief Margaret Chan said that there is an urgent need to step up actions to contain the disease as "10 million people, including 4 million women and children, will lose their lives unnecessarily between now and 2015 if we fail."

In its latest report on `The Global Plan To Stop TB 2011-2015,` the WHO said it needs around USD 37 billion for implementation of the DOTS programme and other health-related assistance for TB patients and USD 9 billion for research and development of new medicines.

But the diagnosis and treatment for a killer disease like MDR-TB has proved to be extremely costly and beyond the reach of poor people in India and China, requiring a greater and committed effort through public funding.

While China has the largest number of patients with XDR-TB, the picture is not clear in the case of India as there are no official statistics.

"However, only USD 14 billion is spent for TB treatment and USD 7 billion for development of new medicines," Glaziou told reporters, arguing that "we do have a problem in developing new drugs and manufacturing of TB drugs faces several bottlenecks."

The so-called research-based pharmaceutical companies are averse to pouring funds into developing new TB drugs because of the low returns in poor countries of Africa. Even in India and China, a large majority of the TB patients are from the poorest sections of the society.

"The second-line drugs for TB are costly and though many of the drugs are off-patents, they require complex technology transfer," Glaziou said, lamenting that there are only two drugs in the final stages of clinical trails.

TB requires sustained treatment with a combination of drugs for at least six months. Besides, the old diagnosis based on a century-old microscopic diagnostic method involving the search for TB bacteria is ineffectual.

And there is still no vaccine to prevent pulmonary TB, the most common form of the disease.

The WHO`s global plan offered a roadmap for addressing drug-resistant TB by carrying out molecular tests for 7 million people.

"Clearly, there must be a greater international effort coupled with sustained governmental effort in poor countries," said the WHO official.