A group of TB survivors is calling for more funding and action to find new vaccines, after the death toll from the infection rose for the first time in 10 years.
In 2020, 1.5 million died of tuberculosis and 10 million were infected, according to the World Health Organization. Activists want world leaders to invest $ 1 billion (£ 730 million) each year in vaccine research, fueled by the momentum of Covid Jab development.
The TB vaccine advocacy roadmap group, a new coalition of organizations, said the G20 financial leaders meeting in late October should increase funding almost tenfold, as it has never exceeded 120 million of dollars (87 million pounds sterling) in a year.
In an open letterTB survivors from all G20 countries said it was time to reverse decades of underinvestment in the “disease of injustice.”
“We are losing people at every step of the care. The diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis fall far short of what people with tuberculosis need. This is only compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic. With only a handful of new TB drugs developed in the past 50 years, treatment still takes months or years, with many debilitating and deadly side effects, “the letter says.
He said there are six promising candidates for tuberculosis vaccines, but they need more funding to avoid further delays.
Uvistra Naidoo, a tuberculosis survivor from South Africa and a signatory to the letter, said: “We all know that vaccines are necessary to eliminate a global epidemic, and tuberculosis is no exception. We also know that it is possible: the rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines shows that if there is political will, there are resources to make it happen ”.
Mike Frick, co-director of the tuberculosis project at Treatment Action Group, said: “Governments cumulatively spent $ 104 billion in research and development of the Covid-19 vaccine and therapeutics in the first 11 months of the pandemic. That’s 75 times more than the money governments and other funders spent on TB vaccine research over the 11 years from 2005 to 2019.
“This disparity indicates a clear disclaimer on the part of governments to protect the human rights of people with TB to health and scientific progress. It is about time that we, as a TB community, started to expect and demand more ”.
Earlier this month, the WHO warned that the pandemic had reversed progress against tuberculosis and fewer people were being diagnosed and treated as resources went to address Covid-19. Global funding for TB fell by £ 500 million from 2019 to 2020.
Worldwide, fewer infections were diagnosed and reported; a drop from 7.1 million in 2019 to 5.8 million in 2020. India accounted for 40% of this global drop in notifications, while the numbers were down 14% in Indonesia and 12% in the Philippines. The number of people who received preventive treatment fell by a fifth.
The WHO said it believes 4.1 million people newly infected with TB in 2020 have gone undiagnosed, compared with 2.9 million the previous year.
Early diagnosis of tuberculosis is essential because undetected cases increase the risk of spreading the disease. A person can become infected by inhaling a small number of bacteria that can take years to become active. The WHO estimates that around a quarter of the world’s population has latent tuberculosis.
Despite high mortality rates, the only existing vaccine is the 100-year-old BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin) vaccine, which is less effective for adults and older adolescents.
Kundai Chinyenze, executive medical director of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, said: “We have promising vaccine candidates and we know how to move them forward. Late-stage vaccine research is expensive, but in fact, it is only a small fraction of the tremendous human and economic cost of the tuberculosis epidemic. After Covid, everyone understands better than ever that investing in vaccines is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism