Securing its place as an indispensable defence against the development and spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB), the 'Stop TB Partnership' announced today that its drug supply arm, the Global Drug Facility, has provided anti-TB drug treatments for 10 million people to 78 countries in the past six years.
"This is an important milestone, because getting anti-TB drugs to people who need them and making sure they complete their treatment is the only way to break the back of the epidemic. It is also the best weapon we have for preventing a potentially massive new epidemic of drug-resistant TB", said Dr Marcos Espinal, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership.
"Together with countries and partners, we are moving steadily towards our target of treating 50 million TB patients between 2006 and 2015," he added.
There were 8.8 million new cases of TB in 2005 and 1.6 million deaths from the disease. In the majority of cases TB is drug-sensitive, meaning it can be cured with four standard, or first-line, drugs. Failing to complete treatment with these drugs is the first step towards development of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB). Use of counterfeit or poor quality drugs also can result in development of this multidrug-resistant form of the disease.
MDR-TB takes longer to treat and can only be cured with second-line drugs, which are more expensive and have more and more serious side effects. When these second-line drugs are misused or mismanaged, extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) can develop. Because XDR-TB is resistant to both first- and second-line drugs, treatment options are very limited, and the risk of death is therefore extremely high. Both MDR-TB and XDR-TB can be spread from person to person.
The 10 million mark was reached with first-line treatments for people with drug-sensitive TB. Since late 2006, the Global Drug Facility has also been supplying countries with the second-line drugs needed to treat MDR-TB, after the Stop TB Partnership's Green Light Committee has verified that applicant countries meet its technical standards and will use the drugs correctly.
"I congratulate the Stop TB Partnership on this accomplishment," said Dr Michel Kazatchkine, Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
He added, "The Global Drug Facility and the Global Fund together provide countries with financing and drugs that ensure better-run programmes and a continuous drug supply so that more patients take a full course of treatment, thereby lowering the risk of drug-resistant TB".
The Global Drug Facility provides countries with the drugs and supplies needed to diagnose and treat adults and children with both drug-sensitive and drug-resistant TB. Along with drug provision it provides direct technical assistance on drug management. The Global Drug Facility provides more anti-TB drugs--free of charge--to countries unable to pay for them than any other group.
It also procures anti-TB drugs for countries that have the means to buy them and can ship drugs on short notice in the event of a humanitarian or natural disaster, armed conflict, or other situation where life-saving anti-TB drugs are unavailable.
The Stop TB Partnership, which is hosted by WHO in Geneva, Switzerland, is a network of more then 500 international organizations, countries, donors from the public and private sectors, and nongovernmental and governmental organizations that are working together to eliminate TB.