As we mark World TB Day, worrisome new strains of drug-resistant tuberculosis—strains that are far more difficult to control than drug sensitive TB strains—are capturing headlines. Just last week, the World Health Organization warned that multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) could spread quickly and widely.
The growing threat of MDR-TB helps to bring attention to the disease—one positive outcome of a bad situation. But it is also important to celebrate the progress achieved in the past year to develop new tools that are transforming the fight against TB.
Last year, a number of countries seriously affected by TB began rollout of GeneXpert, a new diagnostic that can detect TB and the most common form of drug resistance in less than two hours. For doctors and nurses on the front lines, and for patients, GeneXpert is a game-changer.
Improving TB diagnosis enables more patients to receive life-saving treatment. Also in 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved bedaquiline, the first new TB drug in 40 years. While bedaquiline does not solve all problems , it is an important part of a broader effort to discover and develop new drug combinations.
This year, we anticipate more good news. We expect a decision on regulatory approval in Europe for a second new drug to treat MDR-TB, delamanid. We’re also eagerly awaiting the results of the REMox and PaMZ studies, which are evaluating shorter treatment regimens for drug-sensitive TB.
The research pipeline for a TB vaccine is advancing too. While it is unfortunate that the MVA85A TB vaccine trial, which completed this year, failed to show protection, the results provide an opportunity for scientists to evaluate other promising TB vaccine candidates, and also come up with new research strategies for TB vaccines.
For new tools to have the greatest possible impact, it is critical that the fight against TB continues to be well funded. Increased investments by governments of countries with a lot of TB, like China, India and South Africa are key.
Support from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is also essential. This public-private partnership provides more than 70% of international funding for TB control in developing countries. Its impact has been tremendous, with an estimated 10 million patients with infectious TB detected and treated to date. The Global Fund and others are working to better integrate TB and HIV funding streams – unfortunately, people with HIV are very vulnerable to TB. In fact, TB is a leading killer of people with HIV.
Finally, as we chart a path to tackle MDR-TB, we must not lose our focus on drug sensitive TB, which can be cured with existing drugs, and still accounts for the majority of the nearly 9 million new TB cases every year.
The fact is that TB remains one of the leading causes of death globally. But on this World TB Day, we are closer than ever to the innovations that can bring the disease under control and save lives.
Learn more about the global fight against tuberculosis from this infographic.