Harvard Med. School report warns of world health threat

New York---October 28, 1999-- Deadly strains of drug resistant tuberculosis are spreading rapidly and threaten to spiral out of control, according to "The Global Impact of Drug Resistant Tuberculosis", a report released today by Harvard Medical School's Program on Infectious Disease and Social Change and the Open Society Institute. The World Health Organization first sounded the TB alarm six years ago--labeling the airborne bacteria a "global emergency." But with the increasing prevalence of drug resistant strains of the disease, the epidemic has taken a chilling new direction.

In Russia, Estonia and other hotspots around the world cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) are reaching unprecedented levels. While TB and MDR-TB have traditionally been viewed as a scourge of the poor, the report traces the spread of MDR-TB to Western Europe and North America. The study, commissioned by philanthropist George Soros's Open Society Institute, documents drug-resistant TB in more than 100 countries.

"The rapid rise of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis is a public-health catastrophe of the first order," says the report's lead author Dr. Paul Farmer, an associate professor of social medicine at Harvard Medical School. "MDR-TB is a man-made problem. When patients stop taking or don't take enough of the right medications, they develop resistance to the drugs, and then spread new drug-resistant strains of the bacteria."

Immediate action and a massive infusion of new resources are urgently needed to bring this problem under control. While the report outlines an effective approach to the exploding epidemic, it also points out that without at least $1 billion in new funding for TB treatment in the immediate future, MDR-TB will spread to all corners of the earth.

"If new money isn't made available immediately the epidemic may become virtually impossible to contain," said Dr. Farmer. "It is only a matter of time before MDR-TB becomes a serious threat

Contact: Michael Vachon
Open Society Institute

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