Tackling Drug-Resistant TB

The first new TB drug in 40 years brings hope to patients

“I thought I would definitely die, I lost all hope”, says Arman, a thirty five year-old ex-soldier from Armenia.

Arman is one of 450,000 people per year worldwide who are infected with a dangerous, mutated version of one of the world’s deadliest diseases – tuberculosis (TB). The illness kills 1.3 million people per year, more than any other infectious disease apart from HIV/AIDS.

It is caught by breathing in Mycobacteria tuberculosis, and is usually treated with a 6-month course of antibiotics. But for many people, these decades-old drugs have simply stopped working.

In Armenia, nearly 10 percent of people newly infected with TB, and 43 percent of those who are re-treated, are now resistant to at least two of the main antibiotics used to treat the disease.

The toxic, second-line drugs that sufferers must take instead can have severe side effects, including extreme nausea, vomiting, deafness, depression and psychosis. The treatment lasts around 2 years, and fewer than half of patients are successfully treated.

But in Armenia, international NGO Doctors Without Borders has begun using a new antibiotic, bedaquiline, for patients such as Arman who have no other options left. It is the first new TB drug to be developed in over forty years. After 5 months on his new treatment, Arman tested negative for TB for the first time since his relapse in 2008, and he is now doing well.

In partnership with the Armenian Ministry of Health, Doctors Without Borders is also using rapid molecular tests, which means people can be diagnosed with drug-resistant TB within hours, rather than weeks.

Dr Javid Abdelmoneim travels to the snowy Armenian capital, Yerevan, where doctors are leading the battle against drug-resistant TB.