Head of WHO Sees Opportunity to Eliminate Tuberculosis
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), believes that there is a chance to eradicate tuberculosis (TB) once and for all. Recent clinical trials have shown promising results in preventing drug-resistant TB. These trials demonstrated that taking the antibiotic levofloxacin can reduce the risk of developing drug-resistant strains of TB by approximately 60%.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has hampered efforts to end TB. The focus on the pandemic has disrupted health systems’ ability to diagnose and treat TB, resulting in fewer resources for essential TB services. As a result, there has been a global rise in TB cases, with an estimated 10.6 million people falling ill with TB in 2022, up from 10.3 million in 2021. TB continues to be a major cause of death, with 1.3 million TB-related deaths recorded in 2022.
The United Nations’ target of reducing TB-related deaths by 75% between 2015 and 2025 is far from being achieved, as deaths have only declined by 19% during that period. Furthermore, only 52% of the 30 million people with TB who are targeted for preventive treatment actually receive it.
One of the main obstacles to progress in ending TB is the lack of funding for essential TB services. In 2018, WHO set a goal of $13 billion in annual global funding, but currently, less than half of that amount is available each year. Without sufficient funds, it becomes challenging to develop vaccines and improve health infrastructure.
Diagnosis methods for TB are also outdated and not highly effective. Newer molecular lab tests are more sensitive and can test for drug resistance, but their usage is not widespread. Additionally, the only available TB vaccine is effective only in infants and small children, leaving older individuals at risk. Access to the best drugs for TB is also limited in many countries.
However, there is some hope for progress. The expiration of a patent for the drug bedaquiline could lead to a cheaper generic version, improving the availability of the drug. Furthermore, advocates stress the importance of addressing the funding gaps to make significant progress in ending TB. Increasing funding could accelerate the development of vaccines and improve health infrastructure.
Developing a home test for TB, similar to those used for COVID-19, would require funding but could lead to more effective and accessible testing methods. By investing in research and development, along with increased funding, it is possible to overcome the obstacles and finally put an end to the devastating impact of TB worldwide.
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