Drug-Resistant TB Epidemic: Tuberculosis Could Kill 75 Million People In The Next 35 Years

A parliamentary group focusing on tuberculosis in the United Kingdom has published startling research that suggests that 75 million people could die from drug-resistant tuberculosis by 2050. The World Health Organization has warned about the increasing rates of drug-resistant TB and has encouraged the proper use of TB drugs to combat the growing epidemic.

The Daily Mail reports that TB is the second-deadliest infectious disease in the world, falling just behind HIV. TB Facts notes that though tuberculosis has a recovery rate of nearly 95 percent in TB that is not drug-resistant, the rate or recovery drops to 50 to 70 percent in drug-resistant strains. With increasing rates of drug-resistant TB popping up throughout the world, a number of medical researchers have warned of the alarming increase in resistance of the disease.

“Wherever we’re looking for drug resistant TB we’re finding it in very alarming numbers. And that suggests to us that the current statistics that are being published about the prevalence of multi drug resistant TB are really just scratching the surface of the problem.”

The WHO notes that in 2013, 1.5 million people worldwide died from TB. Many of these cases resulted from newly emerging drug-resistant strains. It is noted by the CDC that there is a real cause for concern and that medical professionals should ensure TB patients are taking their medications as prescribed. Drug resistance is increasing as a result of patients taking improper dosages of TB drugs or not completing the regime. In addition to not following proper dosage protocol, a shortage of TB drugs is also to blame.

In addition to a higher rate of death among drug-resistant TB patients, the financial burden is also substantially more when dealing with drug-resistant strains of the disease.

“The average cost of treating a person with TB disease increases with greater resistance. Direct costs (in 2010 U.S. dollars) average from $17,000 to treat drug-susceptible TB to $430,000 to treat the most drug-resistant form of the disease (XDR TB). When including productivity losses (e.g., lost income) experienced by patients while undergoing treatment, costs are even higher.”

So what can be done to ensure that 75 million people do not lose their lives in a tuberculosis epidemic? Researchers say governments need to set up research and development funds targeted specifically to TB research. With tuberculosis affecting mostly poor countries, it was noted that there is not great enough financial incentive for drug manufacturers and researchers to develop new drugs. However, if government bodies provide that financial incentive, more could be done to combat the growing rates of drug-resistant TB cases.

[Image Credit: Getty Images/ Spencer Platt]