Scientists of the Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine have breathed new life into a forgotten technique and so succeeded in detecting resistant tuberculosis in circumstances where so far this was hardly feasible. Tuberculosis bacilli that have become resistant against our major antibiotics are a serious threat to world health.
If we do not take efficient and fast action, 'multiresistant tuberculosis' may become a worldwide epidemic, wiping out all medical achievements of the last decades.
A century ago tuberculosis was a lugubrious word, more terrifying than 'cancer' is today. And rightly so. Over the nineteenth and twentieth century it took a billion lives more than the world population in 1800. Only in the nineteen fifties it became possible to push the disease back, with newly developed antibiotics. Countless sanatoria in Switzerland were closed one after the other and converted into hotels. Today almost nobody in the industrialized world still grasps the gruesome nature of 'consumption disease'. The treatment was so successful that the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1960 decided to eradicate tuberculosis once and for all. It almost worked.
But Mycobacterium tuberculosis is a tough adversary, demanding a treatment with several antibiotics simultaneously during months on end. Hardly feasible in developing countries. The numerous erratic or halted treatments led to growing numbers of bacilli that were resistant to several antibiotics. In the early eighties the death toll first stagnated and then got up again. The arrival of AIDS in the same period made things worse, because an infection with the one makes you more susceptible to the other.
Today we witness a growing number of 'multiresistant' tuberculosis, withstanding our best medicines, and only treatable with a costly and long cure of toxic drugs. Unfeasible in developing countries. According to WHO estimations, of the 5 million or so multiresistant cases of the last decade,
|Contact: prof Bouke De Jong|
Institute of Tropical Medicine Antwerp