When the drugs we rely on to treat life-threatening diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis begin to lose effectiveness, it’s not only time to worry; it’s time to figure out our next move. This week, media outlets reported on drug-resistant diseases: malaria in Thailand and tuberculosis in Europe. Since we work to lessen the threat of both diseases, we’re particularly interested in these developments, and in the news that the US Food and Drug Administration has approved a new treatment for drug-resistant tuberculosis, albeit one that’s not without critics.
Drug-resistant malaria in Thailand threatens deadly global nightmare
NBC News, January 2, 2013
Clipboard in hand, Dr. Francois Nosten worked his way down a ward of malaria patients. He stopped in front of five-year-old Ayemyint Than, who sat to attention and smiled. The smile told Nosten as much as his lines of graphs and figures. “She’s doing well,” he said, moving to an older man, whose pale face and dull sunken eyes told a very different story. “Day five, and he’s still positive?” he asked another of the doctors. “That’s not very good. It means he was very slow to clear the parasite, no?”
To Nosten, it was further evidence of an alarming rise in resistance to artemisinin, currently the front-line drug in the treatment of malaria. He fears it could be the start of a global “nightmare” in which millions of people could lose their lives.
At Europe’s doorstep, fierce war against TB
The Wall Street Journal, December 31, 2012
All along the edges of Western Europe, new and hard-to-defeat strains of tuberculosis are gaining a foothold, often moving beyond traditional victims—alcoholics, drug users, HIV patients—and into the wider population.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Dr. Manfred Danilovits talked about drug-resistant tuberculosis in Estonia and how it is being treated.
USA approves drug-resistant tuberculosis treatment
Voice of America, January 1, 2013
The US Food and Drug Administration has approved a new medication for treating multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB).
Sirturo, known chemically as bedaquiline, is the first new anti-TB therapy approved in more than 40 years. It is also the first designed as part of a combination therapy to treat adults infected with drug-resistant pulmonary TB, when other treatments are unavailable. The new drug works by blocking an enzyme the disease pathogen needs to spread throughout the body.
Don’t let vaccine critics disrupt supply to the world’s poor
Bloomberg View, December 26, 2012
One of the greatest medical achievements of our time is at imminent risk of being undermined by bad science.
Thanks to a herculean effort by health advocates, 78 percent of children in low-income countries receive the basic set of childhood vaccines, covering diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, and haemophilus influenzae. This campaign will be disrupted, and lives lost, if immunization critics win their latest battle for an international ban on a vaccine component that has proved to be safe time and time again.