Medicine 'cocktail' brings new hope to TB sufferers
A shorter and more effective treatment for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis is on the horizon.
About 18000 people tested positive for multidrug-resistant TB in South Africa annually, said Wendy Stevens, head of molecular medicine at Wits, who was speaking at the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease's World Conference on Lung Health in Cape Town.
But, Stevens said, the number could be as high as 25000 because not everyone who had the disease was tested and diagnosed.
Drug-resistant TB is treated over two years with drugs that have severe side- effects, including nausea and deafness. Many people fail to complete the course of treatment, resulting in death in some instances and the spread of the disease.
For those who complete the treatment, there is no guarantee that they will be cured.
Only half of the people treated for the disease were cured, said the union's Arnaud Trébucq.
But, he said, the introduction of a new treatment in nine West African countries had shortened the two-year treatment to nine months.
The new treatment, which consists of seven older drugs, including one previously used to treat leprosy, has resulted in a much higher cure rate of 80% in the 507 patients on whom it was tested. The current cure rate is about 50%.
But South African TB doctor Francesca Conradie urged caution, saying more evidence was needed before the treatment for drug-resistant TB could be changed.
She said the seven-drug combination had not been tested in a controlled trial in which one group took the new treatment and another group did not.
She is taking part in a trial comparing the efficacy of the seven drugs in 470 multidrug-resistant TB patients. The trials are being run in South Africa, Mongolia, Ethiopia and Vietnam. They will finish at the end of 2017.
"Although there is pressure to reduce treatment time and improve outcomes for patients, we need to wait for the results of a robust clinical trial before we can make a policy change."