, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 131-137

First online:

Drug-resistant tuberculosis: an insurmountable epidemic?

  • Amitabha ChakrobortyAffiliated withDepartment of Medicine, Faculty of Health Science, Hamilton Health Sciences & McMaster University Email author 

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Drug-resistant tuberculosis has brought back the spectre of pre-antibiotic days. WHO surveillance data from 2007 showed multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB)—tubercle bacillus resistant to both isoniazid and rifampicin accounting for 4.8% of all new and subsequent cases of tuberculosis. India and China—the two most populated countries of the world, house the maximum number of drug-resistant tuberculosis cases. In eastern European and central Asian countries, more than 6% of new TB cases are MDR-TB, whereas the number is <3% in the countries of the western world. Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) has emerged with the prospect of tuberculosis becoming an incurable disease. A surveillance spreading over the six continents showed 10% of MDR-TB cases were also XDR-TB. The fact that tuberculosis is the most common opportunistic infection among HIV-infected patients in developing countries makes the challenge almost insurmountable. The mortality of HIV and MDR-TB co-infected patients is exceedingly high. The absence of guidelines for treatment of drug-resistant tuberculosis and of infrastructure for delivery of DOT program and rapid laboratory diagnostic facilities, including drug susceptibility testing for both first and second-line drugs, and lack of trained human resource in most of the developing world account for the emergence and perpetuation of this menacing problem. WHO along with partnership with Green Light Committee and individual national governments has started DOT plus program to control this global epidemic.


Tuberculosis Multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) Directly observed treatment (DOT)