Experts probe 'untreatable' TB cases

Mumbai - The Indian government on Tuesday dispatched a team of medical experts to the financial capital, Mumbai, to assess reports of a handful of cases of apparently untreatable tuberculosis.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said senior doctors from its Central TB Division and the World Health Organisation had been sent to the city to meet public health officials to "ascertain the facts" of the cases.

Doctors from the private Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai said in a research paper published in December that they had identified four patients with TB who failed to respond to any of the standard drugs used to treat the disease.

This suggested they were untreatable, the researchers said.

Those cases - and eight others reported later - have prompted officials in Mumbai to consider setting up an isolation facility to prevent the strain's spread.

Airborne disease

But the government in New Delhi has disputed the report's findings, claiming that the hospital was not an accredited centre to diagnose extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) or totally drug-resistant TB (TDR-TB).

In addition, TDR-TB was not a term currently recognised by the WHO, it added in an e-mailed statement.

Tuberculosis is an airborne disease that primarily affects the lungs. It is spread in a similar way to the common cold when an infected person coughs or sneezes, spreading TB microbes or bacilli.

More than two billion people - or a third of the world's population - are infected with TB bacilli, according to the WHO. One in 10 people will subsequently fall ill with active TB.

An infected person who is not properly treated can infected 10 to 20 people a year.

Tuberculosis is endemic in India, with widespread poverty, lack of adequate healthcare and the stigma of the disease that prevents people seeking treatment all cited as contributory factors to its spread.

Nearly 1 000 people die from TB every day - the equivalent of two deaths every three minutes.

Inadequacies

Report author Zarir Udwadia, a consultant chest physician at Hinduja Hospital, criticised the government for disputing its findings.

"The patients have been given all these drugs or almost all of them. Their parameters are matching the resistance profiles," he said.

The first cases of totally drug-resistant TB were identified in Italy and Iran in 2007 and 2009 and the Indian cases are the first since then, the New Scientist magazine said in a report last week.

Udwadia said it was only a matter of time before it appeared in India due to inadequacies in the state TB treatment programme.

Currently, less than 1% of people requiring more expensive second-line drugs for multidrug-resistant TB receive them, he added.

"TB remains a disease of poverty," he said. "I don't think this form is going to be more deadly or more lethal. There are a few patients and reports creeping out of the woodwork from other parts of the country."

"But we have to have legislation to make sure that treatment is given by specific doctors who know what they're doing and the government programme has to reach larger numbers of people with MDR-TB."

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
What are your thoughts on the possibility of having permanent Stage 2 or 3 load shedding?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
I'll take that over constant schedule changes
13% - 1038 votes
Why are we normalising Eskom’s mess?
72% - 5750 votes
I've already found alternative ways of powering my home/business
15% - 1207 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
17.42
-0.1%
Rand - Pound
21.46
+0.2%
Rand - Euro
18.92
-0.2%
Rand - Aus dollar
12.29
+0.0%
Rand - Yen
0.13
-0.3%
Platinum
1,009.25
+0.8%
Palladium
1,651.07
+0.9%
Gold
1,927.51
+0.2%
Silver
23.70
+0.4%
Brent Crude
84.90
-2.1%
Top 40
73,431
-1.2%
All Share
79,477
-1.1%
Resource 10
75,833
-2.8%
Industrial 25
102,289
-0.4%
Financial 15
16,145
-1.1%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE