By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Reporter

Treatment for drug-resistant tuberculosis now available in the country

Posted on May 28, 2016

THE fight against drug-resistant tuberculosis in the country is set to get a boost with a new treatment now made available locally.

Bedaquiline, a new form of drug designed to combat multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), is now available in the Philippines thanks to a donation program through Janssen Therapeutics and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

In a media briefing held yesterday at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City, officials of the Department of Health (DoH), Janssen and USAID announced the availability of bedaquiline and the start of the implementation of its treatment protocol in the country.

Through the newly launched treatment, they hoped that TB patients with limited treatment options would have renewed hope of ridding themselves of the infectious disease.

MDR-TB is a form of TB infection caused by bacteria that are resistant to treatment with at least two of the most powerful first-line anti-TB drugs, namely, Isoniazid and Rifampicin.

It is on average 10 times more expensive to treat and can result in long-term or permanent side-effects.

In recent years, the prevalence of MDR-TB among Filipinos has steadily risen. Currently, it is estimated that 11,000 people, half of which are new cases, in the country are infected by the higher form of tuberculosis.

Officials said this is partly because of the inability of patients to follow the drug regimen religiously, leading the bacteria to develop resistance to first-line drugs, which the bedaquiline donation program hopes to address.

The donation program comes after an agreement between Janssen, part of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, and USAID in December 2014 to help address the global health threat of antibiotic-resistant TB bacteria.

The program is geared towards enabling the appropriate and responsible introduction of bedaquiline in more than 100 low- and middle-income, Global Fund-supported countries worldwide, including the Philippines.

It is designed to be a public-private approach to handling the health burden by providing access to patients most in need of assistance.

Janette P. Loreto-Garin, Secretary of the Department of Health, said the bedaquiline donation program is a big boost to the agency’s mission to make the Philippines TB-free by 2030.

She went on to say that it would complement the strides they have made in the detection and treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis (PTB) in the last two decades, aided by the launch of the Directly Observed Treatment Short-Course (DOTS) strategy in 1996.

Ms. Garin reported that from 64% detection of PTB in 2010 it has improved to 99% detection by 2015. From 88% in 2012, PTB treatment has increased to 92% in 2015.

“This partnership comes in an appropriate time wherein we do not only help people with MDR-TB but also ensure them to have quality life as they go through treatment. Because if we insist on giving medicines with intolerable side-effects we will not be successful with our goals,” Ms. Garin said during the handover of the donation.

To help ensure the program’s success, particularly in scaling up the appropriate use of the treatment, proponents submit to the policy guidelines set by the World Health Organization, which deal, among others, with patients being diagnosed properly, receiving treatment with an informed regimen and being provided responsible care throughout the duration of their treatment.

For the initial phase of the program, 75 patients are expected to undergo treatment for the disease.

Treatment facilities in different parts of the country have been identified and engaged to implement the bedaquiline program. They were chosen because they are already implementing treatments for MDR-TB and showed commitment to be part of the study.

The facilities are Xavier University Community Health Care Center, Lung Center of the Philippines, National Center for Pulmonary Research, Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital, Western Visayas Medical Center, Zamboanga City Medical Center, Eversley Childs Sanitarium, Sorsogon Medical Mission Group Hospital and Health Services Cooperative, Jose B. Lina Memorial Regional Hospital, Batangas City Medical Center, and Ilocos Training and Regional Medical Center.

With a new administration set to take over, Ms. Garin expressed hope that programs of the DoH, including those for the treatment of tuberculosis, would be continued.

“It is normal to have a new administration to have its priorities. What is important is that during the transition period, when I turned things to my successor, the programs of the department are properly explained. Because when you are able to convey the rationale, the output, and why you are doing this, I’m definitely sure that whoever gets to be appointed as secretary would not put it down. Because it’s not easy to start all over again...” the secretary said.