WHO: Asia Is Putting World at Risk of Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis

The World Health Organization urged Asian countries on Monday to take action against the growing threat of drug-resistant tuberculosis, warning that even more virulent forms of the disease could spread if they fail to do so.

WHO said many Asian countries lack adequate laboratory facilities to detect multidrug-resistant TB, and only 1 percent of the estimated 150,000 people infected with the disease in East Asia and the Pacific are receiving appropriate treatment.

"No country in the region is rushing to fight multidrug-resistant TB," Dr. Pieter Van Maaren, WHO's Western Pacific regional adviser for tuberculosis, said in a statement.

He said Asian leaders "need to wake up and realize what is at risk. This is a disease that you can transmit in a cough to your children."

WHO said multidrug-resistant TB is caused by mismanagement of standard tuberculosis treatment, and that mobility, migration and urban housing are also fueling the highly contagious disease.

Multidrug-resistant TB — which resists treatment by at least two of the best anti-TB drugs — accounts for 5 percent of 9 million new tuberculosis cases worldwide, WHO said. In China, one out of every 10 new tuberculosis cases is multidrug-resistant, it said.

WHO said drug-resistant TB is also a serious problem in the Philippines.

"We are more vulnerable than ever to the multidrug-resistant TB threat," Dr. Shigeru Omi, WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific, said in the statement.

WHO warned that inadequate action against multidrug-resistant TB could result in the spread of "extensively drug-resistant TB," a form of tuberculosis resistant to all of the most effective drugs.

A 2005 outbreak of extensively drug-resistant TB, which is virtually impossible to treat, killed 52 people in South Africa, WHO said.