Brussels, 25 Nov 2004
Europe's first anti-tuberculosis centre, aimed at combating the spread of a new multi-drug resistant strain of the disease, opened in Riga, Latvia on 22 November.
The official opening of the Latvia-World Health Organization (WHO) joint venture was followed by a seminar on the state of tuberculosis (TB) in the Baltics, Russia and the world. According to the WHO, cases of multiple-drug-resistant TB are rising at an alarming rate in many parts of the world, and especially in the former Soviet Union.
Estonia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, the Russian Federation, and Uzbekistan are now among the top ten global 'hot spots' for the disease, says the WHO.
While normal TB can be cured with medicine costing 7.50 euro, medicines for drug-resistant strains can cost hundreds or even thousands, and treatment can last up to 20 months instead of six. Furthermore, the new drug-resistant strains of TB can often be fatal if the patient is not given the right medicine.
According to the WHO, some 300,000 people around the world contract multi-drug resistant TB every year, many of them in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In addition, much of that region is also beset with high rates of HIV/AIDS, and people with HIV/AIDS are particularly susceptible to TB.
'There is a very significant concern that TB and HIV -- the numbers of people who have both infections will go up very significantly in sub-Saharan Africa and in Russia [and] Eastern Europe unless [more complex treatments are] made [more] widely available,' explained Dr Jack Chow, the WHO's assistant director general for HIV/AIDS. 'And multi-drug resistant TB is also of high concern if they infect people living with HIV.'