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The Rise of Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) should be a thing of the past, something only our elders feared and died of. However, TB is still one of the top ten causes of death worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about a third of the world’s population is infected with the organism that causes TB - mycobacterium tuberculosis. Nonetheless, only 10% of those infected will go on to develop TB, with the majority of cases likely to occur within two years. Over the course of a year, those with active TB can go onto infect 10-15 other people with the disease, and without treatment, 45% of patients with TB will die. The financial impact of TB is also significant, with the Global TB Caucus estimating that deaths from TB over the next 15 years will cost the global economy nearly US$1 trillion.

Tuberculosis in the Pacific

Rates of TB are higher in Pacific Island Countries compared to the rest of the world. In 2017 there were 1.8 million cases of TB within the Western Pacific region, one of the highest rates globally. The remote and sparse nature of the Pacific Islands present challenges for ensuring universal access to quality TB care, especially those in vulnerable and high-risk populations. While the common forms of TB can be treated using antibiotics, this can be complicated due to the combinations of antibiotics and length of treatment. This can result in patient non-compliance and the emergence of Multidrug-Resistant TB (MDR-TB). MDR-TB is becoming a global public health crisis and a health security threat, due to its scale impact and relative political neglect. In 2017, the WHO estimates that there were 558,000 new cases of TB that were resistant to the antibiotic rifampicin, the most effective first-line drug in treating the disease. Furthermore, 82% of these cases had MDR-TB. The majority of MDR-TB global burden occurs in the Asia-Pacific region, specifically impacting those who are poor and vulnerable the hardest. This evolving form of TB is harder to diagnose, more expensive to treat, and difficult to cure compared to common forms of the disease.

Bridging the skills gap

There are limited options for healthcare professionals in the Pacific region to further their education regarding TB. POLHN has developed an online TB essentials Training course to assist doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to advance their education and fill their knowledge gaps. POLHN provides a large range of free courses online with certificates for health workers. With World TB Day coming up on 24 March, the time is now to commit to learning more about TB and helping build awareness about the global epidemic of the disease.