The World Health Organization (WHO) released on Thursday a shorter, cheaper treatment plan for drug-resistant tuberculosis, aiming to curb thousands of cases of the killer disease’s superbug forms.

Deeming it an important step in solving the “public health crisis” of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), the health agency said the novel diagnostic test could be completed in 9 to 12 months – versus the previously recommended regimens that could take up to two years – and would cost less than $1,000 per patient.

“The new WHO recommendations offer hope to hundreds of thousands of MDR-TB patients who can now benefit from a test that quickly identifies eligibility for the shorter regimen, and then complete treatment in half the time and at nearly half the cost,” said Dr. Mario Raviglione, WHO global TB program director.

MDR-TB stems from bacterial resistance to at least two drugs that are supposed to be effective against it. TB itself is highly infectious, infecting 9.6 million in 2014 and killing 1.5 million. In the same year, around 480,000 developed drug-resistant TB, which remains very difficult to treat.

Conventional treatment programs are completed from 18 to 24 months and maintain dismal cure rates, or just 50 percent on global average. According to experts, this is mostly because patients have a hard time sticking to powerful medicines, which can get toxic, for extended time periods.

The new, shorter therapy is designed for patients with uncomplicated MDR-TB, such as those not showing resistance to second-line drugs fluoroquinolones and injectables, and patients not yet treated with these second-line medications.

WHO recommendations are anchored on studies that involved 1,200 patients with uncomplicated MDR-TB from 10 countries. It is calling for the completion of current randomized clinical trials to provide further evidence of the regimen’s effectiveness.

Today, the more dependable way for ruling out resistance to second-line drugs is MTBDRsl, a newly crafted diagnostic tool that looks for the involved strains’ genetic mutations. It can yield results within 48 hours, which is far more quickly than the minimum of three months currently required.

The UN agency considers MDR-TB a mounting challenge to be addressed, with fewer than 20 percent of the 480,000 patients around the world being treated properly.

A study back from the University of Colorado back in March concluded that turmeric – used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for centuries now – may help resolve drug-resistant tuberculosis through its primary component curcumin.

Photo: CDC Global | Flickr

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