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Washington Post Examines Spread Of Drug-Resistant TB In Russia

The Washington Post examines the spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis in Russia where “[p]reliminary surveys have recorded an uptick in infections,” which could be the “start of a surge fueled by declining living standards and deteriorating medical care resulting from the country’s worst economic slowdown in a decade,” experts say.

“Preliminary state statistics show the rate of infection growing from 83.2 cases per 100,000 people in 2007 to 85.2 in 100,000 last year, and anecdotal evidence from hospitals and clinics around the country suggests that the numbers are still climbing,” writes the Washington Post. Russian officials and health experts are placing the blame on the government’s “failure to order supplies of key medicines last year, a blunder that could strengthen antibiotic-resistant forms of TB and threaten wealthier countries that have all but eradicated the disease,” according to the newspaper. In response to a query, the “Health Ministry issued a statement that suggested a basic misunderstanding about how its procurement system works. ‘The problem is the long delivery process for products from the WHO,’ it said,” the Washington Post reports. But that explanation makes no sense, according to Dmitry Pashkevich, coordinator for WHO’s TB Control Program in Moscow. He said the government buys medicines directly from drug companies with some funds from a 2003 World Bank loan. The WHO is “not involved in procurement,” he said.

While TB treatment in Russia is free, other factors have an effect on treatment outcomes. “Russia’s chief epidemiologist, Gennady Onishchenko, warned in a 2007 report that only 9 percent of the country’s TB hospitals met basic hygiene standards, nearly a fifth suffered shortages of required drugs and more than 40 percent lacked adequate medical equipment. Some didn’t have sewage systems or running water, he said,” writes the Washington Post.

An increase in TB cases in Russia “could have consequences well beyond its borders because about a fifth of all TB patients here suffer from drug-resistant strains — more than almost anywhere else in the world,” the newspaper notes (Schafer, 8/24).