March 24, 2017 / 2:51 PM / 7 months ago

South Africa to try Japanese drug against resistant form of TB

FILE PHOTO - Patients with HIV and tuberculosis (TB) wear masks while awaiting consultation at a clinic in Cape Town's Khayelitsha township, In South Africa, February 23, 2010. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly/File Photo

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa launched a new drug program to treat multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) on Friday in a bid to combat the leading cause of natural deaths in Africa’s most industrialized economy.

The Health Department said it will run a clinical research program for the drug Delamanid, made by Japan’s Otsuka Holdings Co Ltd, involving 400 patients over the next two years.

“Resistance is very minimal to it. The added advantage of this drug is it is more tolerable,” Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi told a briefing for World TB Day in Johannesburg.

TB is a bacterial infection which kills more people each year in South Africa than any other infectious disease. It accounted for 7.2 percent of natural deaths in 2015, more than diabetes or HIV/AIDS.

FILE PHOTO - A patient with HIV and tuberculosis (TB) wears a mask while awaiting consultation at the Ubuntu clinic in Cape Town's Khayelitsha township, In South Africa, February 15, 2010. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly/File Photo

Delamanid has already been used in the European Union, Japan and South Korea.

TB is normally treated with a combination of antibiotics. But extensive overuse of antibiotics worldwide has led to a rise in drug-resistant strains.

FILE PHOTO - Graves are seen through the window of an abandoned cemetery care-taker's hut in Cape Town's Khayelitsha township, In South Africa, February 27, 2010. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly/File Photo

A report this week in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, a scientific journal, said this threatened to derail the progress made in controlling TB worldwide.

In 2015 the World Health Organization estimated that 1.8 million people died globally due to TB, with South Africa among the top six countries that together account for 60 percent of deaths.

An estimated 480,000 people developed multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) that year, according to the WHO.

Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg; Editing by James Macharia and Mark Trevelyan

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