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New Testing Technologies Can Help Fight TB, But New Treatments Needed

“[F]or many low-income populations, [tuberculosis (TB)] is nothing less than a modern-day public health emergency,” and “[t]o make things worse, many of these patients [a]re living with HIV,” U.N. Under-Secretary General and UNITAID Chair Philippe Douste-Blazy writes in a Huffington Post “Impact” blog opinion piece. “There is hope though, and a new piece of technology could in fact play a role in turning the tide on TB,” he states, referencing the GeneXpert rapid TB testing method. He notes, “UNITAID is introducing a GeneXpert machine into each of the 12 provinces of Mozambique and purchasing the cartridges needed for each test,” and continues, “GeneXpert is especially important for combating the growing surge of deadly multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), which is non-responsive to the drugs commonly used to treat TB,” because test results are available in two hours instead of months. However, treatment for MDR-TB is complicated and “[s]ide effects include psychosis and deafness,” he adds.

World TB Day, on March 24, “commemorates the day in 1882 that Robert Koch discovered the tubercle bacillus, the bacteria responsible for tuberculosis,” Douste-Blazy writes, adding, “Although mainly a disease of the poor, MDR-TB doesn’t respect economic, racial or national boundaries and presents a major global threat, with an estimated 630,000 people ill worldwide with this form of TB.” He concludes, “Technology can in fact save lives and from what I’ve seen in Mozambique, GeneXpert will certainly lead to better testing. Newer technologies to diagnose TB are also on the pipeline. But now we need to concentrate on better treatments for MDR-TB to finally put a stop to this ancient airborne killer” (3/20).