- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2008

World health leaders are providing poor countries with a new test for drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) that cuts the diagnosis time from two months to two days.

The new high-tech test and an accompanying boost in drug treatments will be delivered via a two-pronged, $60 million effort to fight the drug-resistant strain of TB, a potentially lethal form of the airborne bacterial infection.

The World Health Organization (WHO), the Stop TB Partnership and representatives of a coalition of countries helping to fund the effort announced their plans Monday.

The project will be funded by UNITAID, a coalition of several countries including France and the United Kingdom.

Multiple drug-resistant TB isn’t treatable with the medications commonly prescribed for ordinary tuberculosis cases. Most TB patients in developing countries aren’t tested for the drug-resistant form until they have failed to respond to standard treatment.

WHO officials said test results take at least two months to develop, during which time many patients die and others contract the disease.

With a quick diagnosis, “the treatment can be started almost from Day One … therefore not wasting time,” said Dr. Mario Raviglione, director of WHO’s Stop TB Department.

“This could have a huge impact,” said Dr. Joanne Carter, executive director of the Results Educational Fund, a nonprofit volunteer group working to end hunger and poverty.

In February, WHO officials warned that more cases of drug-resistant TB had been recorded worldwide than ever before.

The new diagnostic tests previously have been used only in research labs, according to WHO.

The first prong of the anti-TB effort involves the Stop TB Partnership - an international network of health experts and officials - providing the tests to 16 developing countries. WHO and the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics will help the countries install and use the tests.

The second prong involves the Stop TB Partnership increasing the supply of drugs used to treat drug-resistant TB in 54 countries, including the 16 countries receiving the tests.

UNITAID will provide $26 million for the first part of the project and about $34 million for the second.

Meanwhile, the Senate is considering approval of a five-year, $50 billion measure to combat AIDS, malaria and TB worldwide. The House approved a similar bill in April.

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