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Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis

Ellen M Zager and Ruth McNerney*

Author Affiliations

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London, WC1E 7HT, UK

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2008, 8:10  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-8-10

Published: 25 January 2008



With almost 9 million new cases each year, tuberculosis remains one of the most feared diseases on the planet. Led by the STOP-TB Partnership and WHO, recent efforts to combat the disease have made considerable progress in a number of countries. However, the emergence of mutated strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis that are resistant to the major anti-tuberculosis drugs poses a deadly threat to control efforts. Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) has been reported in all regions of the world. More recently, extensively drug resistant-tuberculosis (XDR-TB) that is also resistant to second line drugs has emerged in a number of countries. To ensure that adequate resources are allocated to prevent the emergence and spread of drug resistance it is important to understand the scale of the problem. In this article we propose that current methods of describing the epidemiology of drug resistant tuberculosis are not adequate for this purpose and argue for the inclusion of population based statistics in global surveillance data.


Whereas the prevalence of tuberculosis is presented as the proportion of individuals within a defined population having disease, the prevalence of drug resistant tuberculosis is usually presented as the proportion of tuberculosis cases exhibiting resistance to anti-tuberculosis drugs. Global surveillance activities have identified countries in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and regions of China as having a high proportion of MDR-TB cases and international commentary has focused primarily on the urgent need to improve control in these settings. Other regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa have been observed as having a low proportion of drug resistant cases. However, if one considers the incidence of new tuberculosis cases with drug resistant disease in terms of the population then countries of sub-Saharan Africa have amongst the highest rates of transmitted MDR-TB in the world. We propose that inclusion of population based statistics in global surveillance data is necessary to better inform debate on the control of drug resistant tuberculosis.


Re-appraisal of global MDR-TB data to include population based statistics suggests that the problem of drug resistant tuberculosis in sub-Saharan Africa is more critical than previously perceived.