TDR-TB in India

Because this is a science-based blog after all, not just a gallery of happy-snaps from my travel, I have had a bit of time to look at what’s going on in the world of science. I found a report on the New Scientist website about a study on totally-drug resistant tuberculosis (TDR-TB, as opposed to multi-drug resistant strains) emerging in Mumbai, India. This is very worrying.

The report is based on a letter to the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. The researchers say that they have had 12 cases of TB that appear to be resistant to all antibiotics, with 3 patients dying from the disease. Given that TB can be transmitted quite easily between people, this sets up a dangerous scenario of infection for susceptible people. If this strain of TB takes hold, there will be no treatment available to people, and they will have to rely on their immune systems alone to fight the infection.

How this TDR strain has emerged? Poor management of outbreaks of MDR-TB is probably the answer. In the report, the author lists the cost of treatment for TB patients in India. Treatment for regular garden-variety TB costs around $20, but treatments for MDR-TB costs anywhere upwards of $2000, and treatment is often not obtained, or is not completed properly.

Diseases such as TDR-TB are very dangerous. Governments have a responsibility to their people to protect them. If it means spending money on resources and campaigns to ensure that people seek and can access appropriate treatments, so be it. If the cost of those treatments is high, it should be a priority regardless. Bugs travel fast in our well-connected global world and it may not be a problem solely in India for very long.

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