UN member states put TB on the map
Many people think that Tuberculosis (TB) has been consigned to the history books, but this is very far from being the case. For the fourth year in a row, TB remains the world’s single biggest infectious killer, with 1.6 million deaths in 2017 – more than HIV and malaria combined.
After years of inadequate political efforts to reduce the high human and economic costs of TB, world leaders and health ministers have recently started to realise that increasingly drug-resistant TB poses a clear danger to global health.
At the United Nations on 26 September, world leaders met for the first-ever High-Level Meeting on TB. In the resulting political declaration, all UN member states committed to treating 40 million people with TB by 2022 and to increasing global investment for research and development in new treatments and diagnostic tools to $2 billion per year. This is the first time the disease has garnered this level of global political attention.
However, to defeat the disease for good, governments will have to turn the aspirations of the political declaration into a reality – from the community clinic, to national parliaments, and with independent review at the global level via the UN.
The UK has a strong history of leadership on antimicrobial resistance and TB, in terms of its political, research and funding capacity, and being home to the first clinical trials to prove that TB was curable. In this vein, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt represented the UK Government at the meeting, and announced a major research breakthrough in our understanding of TB’s genetic code, led by the University of Oxford.
She also announced that the UK will provide £7.5 million of new money to the TB Alliance to further the development of three new TB drugs. These funds will be used to advance clinical trials on improved treatment regimens that, with higher cure rates, fewer side-effects and a shorter regimen length, could dramatically reduce the burden of treatment on both patients and health systems and make an invaluable contribution to reaching the 40 million target set forth in the political declaration of the High-Level Meeting.
UK academics & professionals working in Tuberculosis research and service delivery (UKAPTB) were among the few UK organisations invited to attend the UN High-Level Meeting on TB. Responding to the political declaration, UKAPTB said:
“More research funding is urgently needed. Global research priorities are already defined, though with little progress evident at this meeting about how to close the estimated funding gap of US $1.3 billion per year for research to support TB elimination. With the rising threat of antimicrobial resistance, HIV and the global migrant crisis, the South African Minister for Health asked us all to consider ‘Can we afford not to invest?’”
Their full statement can be found here.
UK research institutions are at the forefront of the innovations that will change the way we prevent, diagnose and treat TB. At the same time, UK investment in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria creates a lifeline for millions of people who would otherwise have no access to the TB care they need. The Global Fund is the biggest global investor in TB programmes in poor countries around the world, providing 65% of all international financing for TB, and it is due for a multi-billion dollar replenishment in 2019.
The staging of the United Nations High-Level Meeting has been a landmark moment that has put TB on the global radar. Only time will tell if the commitments made will be kept by individual governments but hope has been created for progress against this long neglected disease. With continued support, these endeavours could help to put an end to TB for good.
Healthcare Science Practitioner
Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital
Thanks in the writing of this review to:
Aaron Oxley, Executive Director, and Naveed Chaudhri , Head of Campaigns at RESULTS UK
UK academics & professionals working in Tuberculosis research and service delivery (UKAPTB) from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s TB Centre (LSHTM TB Centre)