Resistant Tuberculosis Sweeps Across Europe at ‘Alarming Rate’

Drug-resistant tuberculosis is spreading at an “alarming rate” in Europe, the World Health Organization said as it introduced a plan to fight the disease that may save 120,000 lives and as much as $12 billion.

Reported cases of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis in the region tripled in 2009 from 2008 levels, and the six countries with the world’s highest rates of patients with the most dangerous drug-evading form are all in Europe, the WHO said in a statement yesterday.

The London borough of Brent, home to Wembley Stadium and the headquarters of brewer Diageo Plc, has become western Europe’s tuberculosis capital, with more new cases each year than Karonga district in Malawi, a rural area still battling leprosy, according to the U.K.’s Health Protection Agency.

“This problem is a man-made phenomenon resulting from inadequate treatment or poor airborne infection control,” Hans Kluge, a special representative on drug-resistant tuberculosis in the WHO’s European region, said in the statement. “We need wide involvement to tackle the damage that humankind has done.”

European nations aim to diagnose at least 85 percent of patients with multidrug-resistant TB in Europe, and treat at least 75 percent of them by 2015, the Geneva-based WHO said. They will commit to national action plans that include dedicated facilities and improved public awareness, according to the agency. Of about 81,000 cases in 2009, the WHO estimates 34 percent were diagnosed and 22 percent were treated adequately.

Achieving the goals may prevent as many as 263,000 cases of drug-resistant TB, saving 120,000 lives and $5 billion in lost productivity. A further $7 billion may be saved by averting future cases, the WHO said.