Tuberculosis (TB) kills the most people in the world of any other pathogen. While treatments are available to fight TB, there are a number of challenges. First, many individuals may have latent TB where the disease may be contagious before symptoms are apparent. Second, the spread of HIV has also been problematic for controlling TB, as individuals with HIV are at higher risk of a TB infection due to their weakened immune system. Third, a number of TB strains have become drug-resistant. This phenomenon is particularly in problematic in Russia and the former Soviet countries. Adherence to multi-drug resistant TB is problematic as well since patients may have to swallow as many as 20 pills per day plus receive additional injections.
How do we win this fight?
An article from The Economist (“TB or not TB“) offers some solutions. One would be to conduct chest x-rays en masse in areas with high TB infection rates. A mobile x-ray unit may be cost effective if TB rates are high in a given area.
The best approach, however, would be a new vaccine that would–hopefully–kill not just standard TB, but also multi-drug resistant TB. The good news is that there are a number of vaccines in development. The challenge is, who will pay for this?
Who would pay for these [drugs] is an important question, for the $500m price tag involved is commercially unattractive…Observers worry, though, that delay will mean the stockpile of vaccine available for trials will expire–and that creating more will add to costs.
Do we have the stomach–and the funding wherewithal–to defeat TB? This blogger certainly hopes that we do.