- The global epidemic of tuberculosis is
out of control and threatening Britain and other Western countries, experts
- At least 50 people a week are falling
victim to the disease in London and cases have doubled in the past decade.
Experts said that the growth in cases in London mirrored that in New York
before its outbreak a decade ago, which affected 2,000 and cost more than
$1bn (£0.6bn) to control.
- The white death, so called because of
the deathly pallor of its victims, kills more people worldwide than Aids
or malaria - two to three million a year - and the emergence of drug-resistant
strains has increased the threat.
- There are 6,500 cases of tuberculosis
in the UK each year, and one in 20 shows signs of drug resistance. Most
patients can be cured with a cocktail of cheap antibiotics, taken for six
months, costing about £50. But about 100 patients in Britain have
developed multi-drug resistance. In them the disease takes years to treat
and costs at least £50,000.
- To mark World TB day today international
experts warned that the emergence of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis
posed one of the greatest threats to global health and called for urgent
action to curb its growth. In Russia, an estimated 100,000 are infected
with resistant strains, most of them prisoners, because of the country's
collapsing health system. Asia is also badly hit.
- The International Union against Tuberculosis
and Lung Diseases, based in Paris, said: "If we wait a year or two
more, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis may well become the principal epidemic
of the next decade, spreading beyond Russia and Asia into Western Europe."
- In Britain, Dr Peter Davies, a consultant
chest physician in Liverpool and secretary of TB Alert, a charity to be
launched today, said the number of cases in Britain had risen sharply between
1987 and 1993, and the increase had been sustained since. London cases
were mirroring the situation in New York a decade ago. "The graph
showing the increase in cases overlaps. The rise in TB in Britain has been
sustained for the last six years because the disease is out of control
worldwide," he said.
- Tuberculosis is a stubborn bacterium
which requires six months of treatment to eradicate. Poor countries could
not afford sufficient drugs and patients often failed to finish the course,
encouraging the development of resistant strains.