Although a tuberculosis cure was developed more than 50 years ago, TB continues to kill between 2 and 3 million people every year. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 36 million people will die of tuberculosis by 2020 if it is not controlled. Eight million people develop active tuberculosis every year, nearly 98 percent of whom live in the developing world.
Drugs exist to cure most types of tuberculosis, but safe, consistent access to them continues to be a problem. Drug resistance, formed usually as a result of partial or inconsistent treatment, is a growing challenge. Resistant strains of TB can only be treated by approaches that are much more expensive to administer and more toxic to the patient.
Some people with TB do not get better with tuberculosis treatment because their disease is caused by a TB strain that is resistant to one or more of the standard tuberculosis medicines. This is known as drug-resistant TB or multidrug-resistant TB. These forms of tuberculosis are much more difficult to cure.
Treatment for drug- or multidrug-resistant TB often requires the use of special tuberculosis medications, all of which can produce serious side effects. To cure drug-resistant types of tuberculosis, patients may have to take several antibiotics (the bacteria must respond to at least 3 of them) every day for up to two years. However, even with this treatment, between 4 and 6 out of every 10 patients will die.