Toronto Star (12.31.11) - Thursday, January 05, 2012
The World Health Organization's regional office for Europe
released a report in September warning about the spread of
multidrug-resistant TB across the continent. MDR TB takes up
to two years to treat and is cured in western Europe only one-
third of the time. The spread of MDR TB is an especially
daunting challenge for Europe due to its lack of formal
borders and the relative ease with which people cross from
country to country. "MDR TB is spreading at an alarming rate"
in Europe and Central Asia, WHO's report concluded.
"The real story of MDR TB in Europe is that the vast majority
of countries are facing a major problem, with the exception of
the Baltic countries dealing with it effectively," said Mario
Raviglione, director of WHO's Stop TB Partnership. Estonia and
Latvia, he said, have dramatically cut their cases in the last
15 years. Experts say both nations demonstrated a strong
political will to fight TB, which led to targeted funds for TB
Piret Viiklepp, chief of the Estonian TB Registry, said her
nation has halved its TB rate since 1998, thanks to "political
support and commitment at the highest levels of government."
Estonia now sees 300 to 330 TB cases a year, about one-quarter
of which are drug-resistant. Most patients remain in hospital
isolation wards for several months until they cannot transmit
the disease; those whose disease does not improve may remain
hospitalized for years.
Estonia also halted pharmacy sales of TB drugs, distributing
them only through the government so as to provide better
oversight. The government works with WHO to buy the medicines
at lower prices, and it started a program to teach TB best
practices to all medical staffers.
Viiklepp and others also credit TB patients' themselves for
their determination to stick with the drug regimens despite
their grueling side effects.