BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Jan 07 (IPS) – Global efforts to end tuberculosis (TB) are unsuccessful without a dedicated investment in research into the debilitating disease that kills 4,000 people a day, warns Stop TB Partnership.
“Tuberculosis is a disease that is not the darling of donors and investors,” Lucica Ditiu, executive director of the Stop TB Partnership, told IPS in an interview in Geneva.
“We don’t have a Bill Gates who can support tuberculosis research, but tuberculosis remains a disease of concern with deaths increasing for the first time in more than a decade,” she added.
Tuberculosis, a bacterial disease primarily affecting the lungs, has been around for over millennia and remains one of the deadliest diseases in the world. But it’s preventable and curable with the right investment in diagnosis and treatment.
Ditiu attributed the increase in tuberculosis incidents to several factors; many people diagnosed and on treatment for tuberculosis have defaulted due to the disruption of health services in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the global lockdown. Additionally, many people go undiagnosed because they haven’t been diagnosed.
“Southern Africa has done a good job with Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa as well as Rwanda in trying to disrupt the treatment and diagnosis of people with TB as little as possible,” said Ditiu. She praised media awareness programs and community door-to-door campaigns to promote diagnosis and treatment.
Countries need to invest more to find people with TB and put them on treatment. Until you find people, you can’t put them on treatment, and that’s where we’re very late, she said.
Ditiu fears the worst if the world fails to change the current trend in tuberculosis transmission. An estimated 5.8 million people received treatment for tuberculosis in 2020; a decrease of 21% from 2019, and more than 4 million people worldwide still go untreated. According to Stop TB Partnership, half of those who go untreated are at risk of dying from the disease.
Admitting that funding for TB has always been insufficient, Ditiu said TB was the poor cousin to the deep pockets of HIV and AIDS.
“Typically we only have 30% of the funding we need globally. We have places that have been successful in preventing tuberculosis in people living with HIV. Prevention of tuberculosis in people living with HIV is going well, especially in African countries because HIV has resources.
According to the Stop TB Partnership, a network of international organizations established in 1998 to help end TB as a public health problem, funding for research and development (R&D) on TB has remained stable. since 2018.
Global funding for tuberculosis (TB) research stood at US $ 915 million in 2020 – less than half of the target of US $ 2 billion set by the governments of countries participating in the High Meeting. United Nations level on tuberculosis in 2018.
In 2021, tuberculosis had a funding gap of US $ 13 billion worldwide, with only US $ 5.3 billion available for its programs. It has seen a funding cut of US $ 500,000 in 2020 as many countries have withdrawn money from tuberculosis to respond to COVID-19.
A new report, Tuberculosis Research Funding Trends, 2005–2020 by the Treatment Action Group (TAG) and the Stop TB Partnership, found that tuberculosis received less than 1% of the amount invested in COVID-19 research and development in during the first 11 months of the pandemic.
“Mobilizing over US $ 100 billion for research and development on COVID-19 in the first 11 months of the pandemic shows us just how powerful a coordinated effort against disease can be,” Ditiu noted. .
While the pandemic has shown that effective vaccines can save lives, the world is still banking on a century-old vaccine, Bacillus Calmette-Guérin or BCG. However, a more effective vaccine might have higher rates of effectiveness, especially for adults. Why has it taken so long to develop a new, more effective tuberculosis vaccine when the health burden of tuberculosis increases?
“This is the drama,” commented Ditiu. “We’ve had a vaccine for a hundred years that we know for 40 years doesn’t work (effectively) except for newborns, and yet we haven’t done much about it.”
While ongoing research on new vaccines has been slow due to insufficient funding, Ditiu said several potential vaccines were in the works and a vaccine could be expected by 2027.
“It takes a long time to get vaccinated. But because of COVID (we realized that) it is possible to have a vaccine much faster, and we hope to use the lessons of COVID-19 to obtain a vaccine against tuberculosis, ”Ditiu told IPS .
Tuberculosis vaccine research has been hampered by chronic underfunding with a single, century-old, moderately effective tuberculosis vaccine, against more than 20 COVID-19 vaccines.
“What has enabled the development of dozens of COVID-19 vaccines in less than a year is essentially money,” noted Austin Aurinze Obiefuna, executive director of the Afro Global Health Alliance and new vice-president. Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Stop TB Partnership.
“I think the same huge amount of funding should be applied with the same vigor to the development of tuberculosis vaccines. But that just doesn’t seem to be happening.
According to the Stop TB partnership, making much-needed progress in the fight against TB requires investments that match the threat of the disease around the world. This includes a commitment to rectify inadequate funding from the past. Over the next two years, US $ 10 billion will be needed to close the funding gap for TB R&D.
“Rich countries must step up their efforts and devote more money to correcting global health inequalities, which inequalities in the allocation of COVID-19 vaccines have exposed,” urged Mark Harrington, executive director of TAG, an independent activist and community research and policy think tank. .
“COVID-19 has made more people around the world aware of the importance of R&D spending than ever before. Now is the time to finally start making big enough investments to end TB for good. “
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