MSF response to new WHO recommendations just released for shortened MDR-TB treatment regimen

Thursday, May 12, 2016 — MSF responds to the new WHO recommendations with the following two statements:

“The prospect of two years of TB treatment drives parents to hide their children from treatment, teenagers to abandon their ambitions, adults to decide between providing for their family or getting healthy and the elderly to wish for death. The fear of relentless suffering due to side effects manages to outweigh any hope of cure or returning to a normal life. But when I tell patients that it’s only nine months of treatment, they respond, ‘I can do that.’”

- Dr. David Lister, TB doctor for MSF in Uzbekistan and coordinator of the 9-Month Short Course Regimen study.

“WHO’s recommendation to move toward shorter treatment regimens for some people with drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) is a positive step and countries should waste no time in putting these recommendations into practice, where feasible and appropriate.  Although this treatment isn’t suitable for all patients, MSF has seen positive outcomes using a nine-month regimen in Swaziland and Uzbekistan. Shorter regimens are easier for people to tolerate and more effective for some people with DR-TB, and significantly lower costs could enable TB programmes to scale up treatment for many more people.

“Ultimately, we can’t lose sight of the desperate need for completely new treatment regimens that work for all people with drug-resistant TB and that completely eliminate the old, toxic drugs still used in these shorter regimens, particularly the daily painful injections that people must endure.

“We also welcome WHO’s recommendation that people should be diagnosed for pre-XDR or XDR-TB using the latest rapid molecular tests that can detect resistance to key second-line drugs; this is essential to ensure people who can benefit from a shorter treatment regimen can be quickly identified and started on the treatment that’s right for them.

“The newly-recommended tests are only suitable for use in central or regional-level laboratories, so in the long run, in order to get the most number of people diagnosed and on the correct treatment, we need rapid molecular diagnostic tests that can detect drug resistance and can be used in more peripheral settings.

“These recommendations come ahead of expected new guidelines from WHO for the management of MDR-TB, but countries can already start to update their national treatment guidelines so people can benefit from the latest advances in MDR-TB care.”

- Dr. Philipp du Cros, Head of MSF’s Manson Unit and infectious disease specialist