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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
EUROPE: Europe Fears Return of Lethal TB: Urgent Action Needed to Stem Drug-Resistant Strain, Authorities Warn

January 5, 2012
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 control.

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.