Tuberculosis, the world's deadliest curable infectious disease, may become 200 times more costly to treat and almost impossible to cure unless the spread of a drug-resistant strain is halted, the World Health Organization said Thursday.
Drug-resistant TB is now widespread in the Western Pacific region, with high levels documented in China, Mongolia and the Philippines, the WHO's Western Pacific office in Manila said in a statement.
In some countries, the management of multidrug-resistant TB, or MDR-TB, is not yet available or has failed to meet acceptable standards.
The WHO warned that failure to address the threat will result in more deaths and chronic cases.
There is also a risk of spreading XDR-TB, an even more drug-resistant strain.
XDR-TB develops when the second-line drugs used to treat drug-resistant TB are misused or mismanaged and become ineffective, the AP says.
Tuberculosis infects 3.5 million people and kills nearly 300,000 yearly in the Western Pacific despite recent progress by countries to provide better health care, the U.N. agency said. It estimates 1.7 million people die worldwide from TB every year.
"Just one case is enough to set alarm bells ringing," said Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.
He urged countries to put in place a strong TB drug-resistance surveillance system and adequate laboratory capacity to diagnose multidrug-resistant TB. He also called for free treatment and infection control policies to prevent spread of drug-resistant TB in health facilities.
He said up to US$2 billion (EUR 1.5 billion) is needed to implement high-quality TB control in the region.
WHO said the statement was meant to update the situation on TB ahead of Saturday's World Stop TB Day.
Drug-resistant TB is just as easily transmissible as ordinary TB, which is spread by coughing and sneezing.
People can develop or acquire drug-resistant TB due to incorrect or incomplete drug regimens or poor quality drugs, as well as by being infected with drug-resistant TB bacteria.