TB cases go undiagnosed in Asia-Pacific

One in three cases of tuberculosis in Asia-Pacific go undiagnosed, the WHO said on Tuesday, as it approved a new machine that can identify multi-drug-resistant strains in just 90 minutes.


The machine, developed with the help of the Gates Foundation, is one of a number of tools being deployed to help identify more than 600,000 cases that go undetected in the region.

World Health Organisation (WHO) adviser Catharina Van Weezenbeek said the machine detects resistance to the powerful drug rifampicin, a process that would normally take up to six weeks in an advanced laboratory.

“The machine is the size of a cappuccino machine and is a stand-alone and can be made available at the district health office level, which means that we can now detect multi-drug strains of TB in just 90 minutes and much more accurately, quickly and cost-effectively,” she told AFP.

Van Weezenbeek said that although WHO estimates there are 1.94 million TB cases in the Asia-Pacific, only 1.3 million of them go identified because of a lack of equipment and laboratory facilities.

“Those cases that are not diagnosed are continuing to spread the disease. The whole idea about TB control is not only to save people but to cut the chain of transmission before the situation worsens,” she said.

The Xpert MTB/RIF machine was developed earlier this year by the Foundation for Innovative new Diagnostics, a Geneva-based non-profit body funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Van Weezenbeek said the machine is now part of the WHO’s regional strategic plan to combat TB and will be deployed in areas with a high rate of multi-drug-resistant TB.

She said that along with other tools which are still in the approval process, they would “revolutionise” the detection of TB.

Although TB cases have fallen from 3.5 million in 2000 to 1.94 million cases in the region last year, the Asia-Pacific still accounts for 21 per cent of cases globally last year.

Cambodia, China, the Philippines and Vietnam account for 93 per cent of TB cases in the region.