A total of 314 cases of extreme drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) had been confirmed countrywide, with 214 deaths, according to acting health minister Jeff Radebe.

The information was contained in a reply to a question from Gareth Morgan of the DA.

The majority of cases were in KwaZulu-Natal (228), with 201 deaths. Twenty-seven people were on treatment.

Radebe said 203 of the cases were in Masinga, with most deaths occurring there.

"This is an area of concern as it is not yet clear why this area is most affected and the reasons for such high deaths. We will be working with the province to conduct an epidemiological assessment of the XDR-TB epidemic in the area," Radebe said.

The Eastern Cape had 33 cases, with five fatalities, with 27 people on treatment. One patient had been transferred.

Gauteng had 13 cases, with two fatalities, while the North West had 10 cases with four deaths, Radebe said.

The Free State had eight cases, with two deaths, while five people were on treatment and one patient had defaulted.

The Northern Cape and Western Cape also had eight cases each, with no fatalities.

Limpopo had five cases, with one death, three people on treatment and one defaulting.

Mpumlanga had once case of XDR-TB and the person was also on treatment.

Radebe said his department had ensured that all existing multidrug-resistant TB patients currently on treatment were tested for second- line susceptibility to ensure early detection of XDR-TB.

"Close contacts of all confirmed XDR-TB patients have been screened and tested for TB."

To cope with the demand the National Health Laboratory Services had increased staffing in the laboratories that conduct second-line drug susceptibility testing.

Radebe said that the department together with the Medical Research Council and a Geneva-based foundation would embark "on a demonstration project to evaluate the feasibility, impact and cost effectiveness of two rapid methods to diagnose resistant TB".

The test would enable results within two days for first-line susceptibility and second-line drug testing would be done sooner, reducing the turn-around time of 10 to 12 weeks for confirmation of second- line drug susceptibility, he said.

This article was originally published on page 6 of Cape Times on March 16, 2007