Cheap reliable diagnosis for tuberculosis urgently needed
8 January 2009
Undetected tuberculosis is a serious threat to world health and a
cheap reliable diagnosis is urgently needed. This was the outcome of the
EAGLES International Symposium report on Tuberculosis Research, held in
Shenzhen, China, in November 2008.
It concluded that TB is the most important infectious disease in
China and that millions of people from Asia, South America and Africa
are carriers of latent TB infections. It causes 2 million deaths a year
and infects 8 million new cases a year.
The threat of TB outbreaks even in Europe and North America costs
countries hundreds of millions of Euros to control every year. Yet the
immediate, solvable challenge in TB is simply to diagnose the disease
quickly and simply with robust, fully-tested kits. This would then
enable treatment prior to the manifestation of the clinical and
The majority of TB patients are still diagnosed using the tools of
the Victorian era — Tuberculin skin tests, sputum smears and a
microscope. But the Tuberculin test is unspecific and the smear
microscopy insensitive, and in rural areas in developing countries even
a microscope is not always available.
Cheap, simple but more accurate techniques are needed, that can be
used in primary healthcare settings in the developing world.
TB diagnostics development needs serious investment, and ‘useless’
tests already on the market need independent testing and effective
Both are direct challenges to policy makers who tend to neglect
research into diagnostics because it is not so attractive as developing
new drugs. New drugs and vaccines are also urgently needed, to shorten
treatment courses and reduce patient drop-out, but the first priority is
1. The report of the workshop can be downloaded as a PDF file from:
2. For a review of commercial serological antibody detection tests see:
Karen R Steingart, et al. A systematic review of commercial serological
antibody detection tests for the diagnosis of pulmonary tuberculosis.
PLoS Medicine. 2007.
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