World Tuberculosis Day spotlights multidrug-resistant TB

Activists, scientists and global health agencies working in South Africa used Thursday's World Tuberculosis Day to draw attention to the threat of multidrug-resistant TB.

South Africa currently has the world’s third highest rate of TB infection, which has been exacerbated by the country’s HIV epidemic, according to

Among those infected with TB are many that have been infected with strains of the disease that are resistant to most known forms of treatment. Some are infected with totally drug-resistant TB, for which there is no treatment.

"As we look for drug-resistant TB, we find more of it," Professor Gavin Churchyard, CEO of the Aurum Institute, said, according to

Churchyard is the co-author of a report on MDR-TB published recently by the Academy of Science of South Africa and the United States Institute of Medicine.

The report concludes that an increasing number of South Africans are acquiring MDR-TB from other patients, as opposed to contracting it by not finishing the standard six-month rifampicinand isoniazid treatment, reports. The report also noted the growing number of children in South Africa with MDR-TB.

Churchyard said that taking on the MDR-TB problem requires new drugs, better systems for treating patients and faster diagnostic tests. It can take weeks to identify MDR-TB, and it is generally only investigated when standard treatments fail.

The World Health Organization, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the Stop TB Partnership recently called on world leaders to increase their commitment toward meeting a goal of diagnosing and treating one million people with MDR-TB between 2011 and 2015.

"Many countries have made progress, but despite the recent scale up in efforts, the world needs to do much more to get care to all MDR-TB patients who need it," WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said, according to "We cannot allow MDR-TB to spread unchecked."