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Europe: TB treatment ‘far below’ target

Published on 19/03/14 at 08:10am
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ECDC HQ in Sweden

European countries are still not getting to grips with the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis, according to a new report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Published in conjunction with the World Health Organisation, the data suggests that only one in three patients with multi-drug resistant (MDR) TB finishes their treatment successfully. More than half either die, their treatment fails or they stop taking their medicine altogether.

The figures mean that only seven European countries can show a mean five-year decline in MDR rates, and Europe’s overall treatment success rate for the condition ‘remains far below’ the 70% target set out in an EU action plan on the issue. 

The problem is that MDR TB can lead to the transmission and development of strains of extensively drug-resistant (XDR) TB, which is almost impossible to do anything about.

Treatment costs for those afflicted with MDR and XDR TB are five times higher than for those whose TB is susceptible to medicine.

“If we are not able to diagnose and treat patients with MDR TB early and successfully, this not only puts patients’ lives at risk but also paves the way for XDR TB,” explains ECDC director Marc Sprenger.

“This is why it is essential to enable healthcare workers across Europe to fully support all MDR TB patients during the full course of treatment and make sure they finish it successfully,” he concludes.

Increased uptake of rapid molecular testing will result in better treatment outcomes, ECDC suggests – but it believes health professionals need to do more too. 

“Multidisciplinary decision-making on what treatment a patient should be prescribed and how the patient should be managed is advisable,” the report goes on. 

Social needs such as housing need to be taken into account, along with management of a patient’s other health issues.

“Early and rapid detection of all MDR TB cases as well as prompt and adequate treatment of drug-susceptible TB patients are essential in the path towards TB control and TB elimination,” the report concludes.

The news is not all bad: in 2012, there were 68,423 cases of TB reported in 29 European countries - down 6% on 2011 (72,000 cases) - which means there has been an annual average decline of 5% since 2008.

And the majority of European countries had fewer than 20 cases of TB per 100,000 of the population, with rates below 10 per 100,000 in 18 countries.

Adam Hill

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