New Research Shows Highest Rates of Drug-Resistant TB Ever Recorded

Nearly half of multidrug-resistant TB patients show resistance to additional medicines


August 30, 2012 – Today, an international team of researchers led by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new research that shows higher rates of drug-resistant tuberculosis around the world than previously demonstrated. The study was published in The Lancet medical journal.

Patients with multidrug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) suffer resistance to at least two of the four “first line” drugs that make up standard TB treatment. Patients with extensively drug resistant TB (XDR-TB) suffer a more progressed form that is resistant to at least two additional “second line” drugs used to treat drug-resistant strains. The researchers found that nearly half (43.7%) of MDR-TB patients also suffer resistance to at least one second-line drug. The implications are that the global MDR-TB epidemic is progressing into an XDR-TB epidemic.

“If we ever needed proof that humanity is losing the fight against TB, this is it,” said Kolleen Bouchane, Director of ACTION. “TB is transforming into an incurable airborne disease right before our eyes. Where is the emergency response? We need to rapidly develop new TB drugs, and we need to ensure that all TB patients receive the right care in order to stop further resistance.”

The research comes at a time when financing for TB is at risk as governments fight recession. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria—the world’s largest international grant-maker for TB services—was forced in November 2011 to stop funding new grants until 2014.

At its upcoming meeting in September, the Global Fund’s board will vote on a new funding model, which could place caps on the amount of funding for which countries can apply. Such a decision would put the long-term sustainability of the Global Fund’s efforts in jeopardy. Caps would also limit ambition and distort investments by leading  countries to request what they think will be made available to them, rather than what they need to fight specific challenges like MDR-TB and XDR-TB with appropriate tools and urgency. 

“The science shows that drug-resistant TB is spreading, we are not controlling it, and by chronic underinvestment we are creating more,” said Aaron Oxley, Executive Director of RESULTS UK, an ACTION partner organization. “The current Board Chair Simon Bland and the U.K. Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell MP should take a hard look at this new evidence when making decisions that could cap the agency’s effectiveness. We need a fully funded Global Fund that can meet the demand for its resources.”

XDR-TB is highly lethal and expensive to treat. The first reported outbreak of XDR-TB occurred in a South African hospital in 2006. Of 53 patients infected, 52 died, half of them within 16 days of diagnosis. Since then, XDR-TB has been detected in 77 countries. Earlier this year, physicians in Mumbai India hospitalized patients who they found to have strains resistant to all available TB antibiotics.


Press Contact: Jove Oliver (646) 373-4702



ACTION. 2012. Global Fund Progress at Risk.

Dalton, T. et al. 2012. Prevalence of and risk factors for resistance to second-line drugs in people with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in eight countries: a prospective cohort study. The Lancet. Available at:

Engel, N. 2012. The making of a public health problem: multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in India. Health Policy and Planning.

WHO. 2011. Towards universal access to diagnosis and treatment of multidrug-resistant and extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis by 2015.