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WHO Advises Faster, Cheaper Treatment for Tuberculosis

Director of WHO’s Global TB Program, Mario Raviglione.

Director of WHO’s Global TB Program, Mario Raviglione.

The World Health Organization is proposing a new way to fight the disease multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.

WHO officials say the new treatment costs less and is easier to use than other treatments. They also say it could save the lives of tens of thousands of people.

Tuberculosis (TB) mainly affects the lungs. The bacteria that cause the disease can develop resistance to the two most powerful anti-TB drugs. This has led to the development and spread of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.

Multi-drug resistant TB infects nearly 500,000 men, women and children every year. Each year, about 190,000 of those who develop this kind of the disease die.

WHO officials say the death rate is high because fewer than 20 percent of the patients are getting the right form of treatment.

Mario Raviglione is the director of the WHO's global tuberculosis program. He said the new test and treatment program will help people who have multi-drug resistant TB.

"These two new recommendations from WHO enable MDR-TB patients one, to benefit from a test that will quickly identify who is eligible for the shorter MDR-TB treatment regimen; and two, complete treatment in half the time at nearly half the cost of today."

The new test can show in just 24 to 48 hours whether someone has the disease. The test that is used now may not give results for three months or longer.

The shorter treatment program costs less than $1,000 per patient and can be completed in nine to 12 months. Current treatment programs for people with multi-drug resistant TB cost $1,500 to $3,000 and take between 18 and 24 months to complete.

Reviglione said that worldwide about 50 percent of those receiving the longer and more-costly treatment are cured. He said those who are not cured either die or can live with the disease for years. He says about one-fourth of patients stop the treatment before it is completed.

"They abandon treatment because the treatment lasts, as you probably know, up to two years, with drugs that we all know are fairly toxic in a way. They have side effects and they are not really liked by patients who have to take them."

WHO officials said there are about 400 laboratories in developing countries that can use the new test and treatment program. So, officials believe, most people suffering from MDR-TB will be able to be treated using the faster, less-costly method.

I’m Marsha James.

Lisa Schlein reported this story from Geneva for Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

tuberculosis – n. a serious disease that mainly affects the lungs

resistant – adj. not affected or harmed by something (usually used in combination with another word)

recommendation – n. the act of saying that someone or something is good and deserves to be chosen

enable – v. to make (someone or something) able to do or to be something

eligible – adj. able to be chosen for something; able to do or receive something (often + for)

regimen – n. a plan or set of rules about food, exercise, etc., to make someone become or stay healthy (often + of)

abandon – v. to stop doing or having (something); to give up (doing something) completely

fairly – adv. to some degree or extent but not very or extremely; to a reasonable or moderate extent

toxic – adj. containing poisonous substances

side effect – n. an often harmful and unwanted effect of a drug or chemical that occurs along with the desired effect

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