Geneva, Switzerland - 27 February 2017: The TB community -- technical and implementation partners, researchers, donors, civil society, and people affected by TB -- were surprised and appalled that the WHO Global Priority List of Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria, for which new antibiotics are urgently needed, did not include Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the etiologic agent of Tuberculosis (TB).
Mycobacterium tuberculosis - responsible for 1.8 million deaths worldwide and 30% of all deaths due to drug resistance globally - is not part of any of the lists - critical, high, or medium priority -- developed by WHO, and shared today. This shocked the TB community, given that drug-resistant TB is traditionally treated with a cocktail of toxic antibiotics over the course of two years. Traditional drug-resistant TB treatment causes terrible side-effects and complications that can result in deafness, blindness, psychosis, and even death.
Globally, only a small fraction (22%) of persons with drug resistant TB are detected and of those who receive treatment, only 52% are cured; this means that of the estimated 580,000 cases of drug resistant TB each, year, only about 64,000 or 11% are cured. Despite this, investments in TB R&D are steadily decreasing and the pipeline for new anti-TB drugs is almost depleted.
In today's WHO press release, it is stated that "Tuberculosis - whose resistance to traditional treatment has been growing in recent years - was not included in the list because it is targeted by other, dedicated programmes." This inaccurate statement has significant implications for the manner in which we will fight TB and drug resistant TB as it widely acknowledged the numerous gaps in implementation, research and innovation to rapidly detect, treat, and cure persons afflicted with drug resistant TB.
The UK government’s Review on Antimicrobial Resistance predicts that drug-resistant TB will account for a quarter of the 10 million annual AMR deaths by 2050. Including TB as part of the global effort to combat AMR will substantially impact the ability of the world to respond to this international crisis, given the large proportion of antimicrobial resistance due to TB. It is urgent that the response to drug-resistant TB is not seen as just a "TB problem." Ensuring that this deadly disease receives appropriate attention and investments to fight the drug resistant strains that are currently spreading through air as we speak is critical to the health of everyone, everywhere.
The WHO list shared today carries a high inadvertent risk to erode meagre accomplishments after much arduous efforts by the TB community at large to ensure that this leading infectious global killer receives the crucial attention and investments to fight drug resistant strains of this airborne disease.
The facts are compelling and require urgent reconsideration for inclusion by WHO of drug resistant M. tuberculosis in this list of priority "bacteria for which new antibiotics are urgently needed."