Head of WHO Urges Global Efforts to Eliminate Tuberculosis
The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is calling for renewed global efforts to eradicate tuberculosis (TB). He believes that we have the opportunity to write the final chapter in the story of TB and bring an end to this deadly disease.
Recent clinical trials conducted in South Africa and Vietnam have revealed a promising breakthrough in TB treatment. The trials found that taking the antibiotic levofloxacin can reduce the risk of developing drug-resistant strains of TB by about 60%. This treatment has been deemed safe and effective for both children and adults living in environments with high exposure to multi-drug resistant strains.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the fight against TB, reversing years of progress. The focus on the pandemic has disrupted the ability to diagnose and treat TB, and resources for essential TB services and future treatments have been limited.
According to global estimates, 10.6 million people fell ill with TB in 2022, up from 10.3 million in 2021. TB-related deaths in 2022 reached 1.3 million. This alarming increase highlights the urgent need for action.
The UN’s goal to reduce TB-related deaths by 75% from 2015 to 2025 is far from being realized, with only a 19% reduction in deaths from 2015 to 2022. Additionally, only 52% of the 30 million people targeted for preventive treatment for TB actually received the care they needed.
One of the major barriers in the fight against TB is funding. Fundraising for essential TB services falls short, with less than half of the $13 billion goal set by the WHO in 2018 available on a yearly basis. This lack of funding severely hampers research and development of diagnostics, drugs, health infrastructure, and vaccines.
Improvements in TB diagnosis are also essential. The current most common method using a microscope is not highly effective. However, newer molecular lab tests are more sensitive and can also test for drug resistance. The challenge lies in ensuring wider accessibility and usage of these advanced diagnostic tools.
Access to effective TB treatment is another issue, as the only available TB vaccine is only effective in infants and small children. Furthermore, the high cost of drugs makes them inaccessible for many lower-income countries. The recent expiration of a patent on the drug bedaquiline could potentially make it more affordable and increase availability.
Advocates are also calling for the development of a home test for TB, similar to those used for COVID-19. The GeneXpert, a rapid laboratory diagnostic test for TB, is becoming more affordable, but a simple and accessible home test could greatly improve early detection and intervention.
In conclusion, urgent action and investment are needed to combat TB and achieve the goal of its elimination. With increased funds, research and development efforts can be accelerated, leading to improved diagnostics, drugs, health infrastructure, and vaccines. The fight against TB requires global collaboration and commitment, and only through united efforts can we prevent millions of needless deaths and finally defeat this ancient disease.
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