Drug-resistant strains of TB are out of control
The fight against new, antibiotic-resistant strains of tuberculosis has already been lost in some parts of the world, according to a senior World Health Organisation expert.
Dr Paul Nunn, head of the WHO’s global TB response team, is leading the efforts against multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB). Nunn said that, while TB is preventable and curable, a combination of bad management and misdiagnosis was leaving pharmaceutical companies struggling to keep up. Meanwhile, the disease kills millions every year.
“It occurs basically when the health system screws up,” said Nunn. “Treating TB requires a carefully followed regime of medication over six months. In places where health services are fragmented or underfunded, or patients poor and health professionals ill-trained, that treatment can fall short, which can in turn lead to patients developing drug-resistant strains. It’s been estimated that an undiagnosed TB-infected person can infect 10 others a year.
We tend to do a poor job of dealing with systemic effects of poorly functioning systems. Direct present threats get out attention. And we are decent at directing brain power and resources to find solutions. We are not very good at dealing with failures that put us in much worse shape in the long term. For small threats we can wait until it becomes a present threat and then deal with it. There are costs to doing this (economic and personal) but it can be done.
Some problems though become enormously complicated to deal with once they become obvious. Global climate change, for example. And often, even once they are obvious, we won’t act until the costs (economic and in human lives) are very large. It is possible that once we decide to get serious about dealing with some of these issues that the costs (economic and in human lives) will be catastrophic.
The failure to use anti-biotics medicine properly is a very serious threat to become one of these catastrophic societal failures. While tuberculosis failures may be larger in poorer countries, rich countries are failing probably much more critically in the misuse of anti-biotics (I would guess, without having much evidence at my fingertips to back up my opinion. I believe the evidence exists I am just not an expert). These failures have huge costs for all of humanity but we are risking many premature deaths because we systemically fail to deal with issues until the consequences are immediate.
Related: Extensively Drug-resistant Tuberculosis (XDR TB) (2007) – What Happens If the Overuse of Antibiotics Leads to Them No Longer Working? – Antibiotics Too Often Prescribed for Sinus Woes – Overuse of Antibiotics (post from 2005) – CDC Urges Increased Effort to Reduce Drug-Resistant Infections (2006)