The diseases tuberculosis (or TB) is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This organism has infected approximately one third of the world population but it only causes some people to become sick with TB. The classic signs of TB in the lungs are coughing, fever, night sweats and weight loss. Every year, there are about nine million new cases of tuberculosis and about two million people die from TB, but it can be treated and cured. Remarkably, 75% of these TB cases occur in developing countries. In Vietnam, TB is seventh cause of death and the most fatal infectious disease with one Vietnamese person dying of TB every twenty minutes. There are many challenges to controlling TB in resource limited countries.
There is a vaccine available which is called the BCG vaccine, but the vaccine does not work very well except to reduce the incidence of severe forms of TB in young children. We have drugs which can cure TB but at least four different drugs must be taken for at least six months so that many people do not complete the whole course of treatment and this helps the bacteria become resistant to the drugs and spread to other people. Tuberculosis in a household can have many social and economic consequences, because it is often the young adults who are the wage earners who get sick. Recently, the HIV epidemic and the emergence of multi-drug resistant (MDR) TB has emphasized the urgency of developing new weapons to fight the pandemic. The Millenium Development Goals included targets to half both TB prevalence and deaths from TB, compared to 1990 levels, by 2015. The world as a whole is on track to meet these targets due to a global effort to strengthen TB control efforts and develop new drugs, diagnostic tools and vaccines. However, sustained political and financial commitment from donors, national and international organizations and governments will be required to build on the progress to date and ensure that a world free of TB is a realisable goal within our lifetimes.
The OUCRU TB research programme, in collaboration with the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, Pham Ngoc Thach Hospital for TB and Lung Diseases , the National Lung Hospital Ha Noi and the National TB programme aims to improve diagnosis and clinical care by undertaking clinical trials of antibiotics, steroids and antiretroviral therapy. We are also undertaking work on the virulence of the bacteria, the mechanism and spread of drug resistance, pharmacology, the immune responses, the host susceptibility to TB meningitis, drug interactions between TB drugs and antiretroviral drugs and adverse events associated with treatment.