Friday, January 13, 2012

Failing to treat TB, until TB treatment fails

There are reports coming out of India of patients who have tuberculosis that responds to none of the existing drug regimes. When you have MDR (multidrug resistant) TB, the first-line drugs will not work on it, and your physician has to resort to second-line drugs that tend to be more expensive, less effective, have more side effects, and take longer to cure you from TB. When you have XDR (extensively drug resistant) TB, there is no point in you taking the first-line drugs as well as several of those in the second-line. Your clinical options and prognosis dwindle. Now there is the concept of TDR (totally drug resistant) TB, where patients are cast back into medical history, back to the time of the sanitorium and folk remedies.

TB is curable and, as is well recognized, failure to cure has to do with non-adherence to lengthy TB treatment, poor diagnostics, weak health care systems, and lack of political will. TB, in principle, could have been as prevalent today worldwide as polio. Instead, primary TB continues to kill millions every year, and if that is not bad enough, we now apparently have pockets of TDR in the world to control and contain. It is striking that a recent letter to Clinical Infectious Diseases states that systematically poor clinical management -- lack of medical ethics at the most basic level -- is helping to fuel TB drug resistance:

The vast majority of these unfortunate patients seek care from private physicians in a desperate attempt to find a cure for their tuberculosis. This sector of private-sector physicians in India is among the largest in the world and these physicians are unregulated both in terms of prescribing practice and qualifications. A study that we conducted in Mumbai showed that only 5 of 106 private practitioners practicing in a crowded area called Dharavi could prescribe a correct prescription for a hypothetical patient with MDR tuberculosis. The majority of prescriptions were inappropriate and would only have served to further amplify resistance, converting MDR tuberculosis to XDR tuberculosis and TDR tuberculosis.

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