Multi-Drug Resistant TB Reaches Record Levels in Western Russia

Martin is a contributing news editor and writer based in Amsterdam

Three areas in Russia now have the highest rate of multi-drug resistant (MDR) tuberculosis ever recorded, according to a new report released today by the World Health Organization. Globally, however, the percentage of TB patients infected with a multi-resistant strain has stayed roughly the same at 3.6%. Much more money is needed to treat patients suffering from MDR-TB and stop its spread, WHO says; the lengthy treatment can cost 50 to 200 times more than ordinary TB treatment.

Around 440,000 cases of MDR-TB emerged globally in 2008, according to the report, half of them in India and China. Relatively speaking, however, the problem is most severe in Eastern Europe and countries of the former Soviet Union. Among new TB patients in the Russian oblasts (regions) of Murmansk, Pskov, and Arkhangelsk—all of which are in northwest Russia—28%, 27%, and 24% respectively were MDR cases. (The highest recorded level thus far was 22% in Baku City, Azerbaijan, in 2007.) Intense efforts to combat the problem have led to declining rates in the Orel and Tomsk oblasts, however, as well as in Estonia and Latvia.

To repeat such successes on a global scale, a huge increase in funds is needed. In the 27 countries with a high burden of MDR-TB, some $400 million will be available in 2010; "The funding required in 2015 will be 16 times higher," the report says.

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