WHO Official Calls for Urgent Action Against XDR-TB

by VR Sreeraman on Sep 12 2007 6:38 PM

A top World Health Organization (WHO) official urged Asia-Pacific countries on Wednesday to step up their fight against growing outbreaks of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.

Shigeru Omi, regional director for the Western Pacific, also called for immediate action to prevent the development of extensively drug resistant-TB or XDR-TB in the region.

"There is an urgent need to scale up the management of multidrug resistant-TB, which has emerged across the region, including the Pacific," said Omi.

He made the appeal at a regional committee annual meeting in South Korea's southern resort island of Jeju.

The region has about a third of the global multidrug resistant-TB burden, mostly in China and the Philippines, and to some extent in Mongolia, South Korea and Vietnam, according to the WHO.

Tuberculosis of all kinds continues to be a major public health problem in the Western Pacific with an estimated 1.9 million new cases in 2005.

"The potential magnitude of the threat of multidrug-resistant TB in the region requires countries to urgently develop a response and thus prevent the development of extensively drug resistant-TB or XDR-TB," Omi said.

Omi also drew attention to "increasing concern" about HIV-related TB, saying that in the region TB is the main opportunistic infection that kills people living with HIV/AIDS.

He called for comprehensive infection control strategies to prevent the spread of TB among HIV sufferers.

The meeting heard that access to HIV treatment continues to expand in the region but significant obstacles to universal access must still be overcome.

In the Western Pacific 1.3 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2006 and almost 80,000 died of HIV/AIDS that year.

"Despite some success in scaling up prevention interventions, the epidemic continues to grow, with an estimated 167,000 new HIV infections occurring in the region in 2006," a statement said.