Tuberculosis: measures needed to avoid 2.1 million deaths in Europe

“Drug-resistant tuberculosis is one of the gravest risks requiring attention. Its rates in Europe are growing faster than in any other world region,” today underlined Serhii Kiral (Ukraine, EC), rapporteur on “Inquiry into growing antimicrobial resistance in Europe”, at the opening of a hearing on the subject organised in Paris by PACE’s Committee on Social Affairs.

Olga Klymenko, a former tuberculosis patient and author of the book “World in me: confessions of a tuberculosis patient”, said when she was diagnosed she felt first shocked, and then ashamed. “When you have cancer, everyone feels sorry for you. When you have tuberculosis, people feel afraid.” After almost a whole year of treatment, she had to face the unexpected consequences of the disease. “My daughter couldn’t understand why she was kept away from her mother, I lost my job because of my ‘TB status’, I became a stranger to some of my family and friends…” Moving on, she said, it is important that patients can rely on all the necessary human and professional support. “I call on the global community to include TB issues in their agenda,” she concluded.

Matt Oliver, Head of the Secretariat of Global TB Caucus, said that “over the next 35 years, experts have estimated that, should multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis become the most common form of the disease, it could cause an estimated 2 million deaths in Europe”. According to Global TB Caucus, last year 10.4 million people fell ill with the disease and 1.8 million died from it. Since 2000, over 30 million people have died from TB. Many people in high-income countries think that TB is a disease of the past, but parts of London have rates equivalent to parts of sub-Saharan Africa. “Political leaders need to take action on the disease,” he said.

Michele Cechini, from the OECD Health Division, underlined that the number of new antibiotics approved by the Food and Drug Administration within the last 30 years have fallen from 16 in 1987 to 5 in 2016, while the number of big pharma companies with an active antibiotic research and development pipeline has decreased from 18 in 1990 to 6 in 2016. He underlined policy approaches to tackle irrational use of antimicrobials through clinical guidelines, stewardship programmes, patient education and rapid diagnostic tests.

The presentations were followed by an exchange of views where committee members addressed several related issues, including the use of antibiotics in animals, lack of research by the pharma industry as well as specific aspects related to tuberculosis patients.