What We’re Reading: World TB Day coverage

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In a special edition of What We’re Reading, the following is a compilation of reports, news stories and statements released in honor of World TB Day, March 24, 2011.

Clinton – We must redouble our efforts toward stopping the spread of this disease: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued this press statement on World TB Day, reaffirming the U.S. commitment to fight the deadly disease.  She states, we must “recommit ourselves to tackling this 9,000 year old scourge that drains the life and saps the potential of so many.”

Drug Resistant TB Drugs Under the Microscope: Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has released a report ahead of World TB Day that highlights the issues surrounding high prices and poor supply of the drugs needed to treat drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB). DR-TB is on the rise and, according to the World Health Organization, only 7 percent of the 440,000 new cases of DR-TB get properly diagnosed and treated. Because of the low demand, the drugs used to treat DR-TB are old, expensive and prone to stock-outs. MSF calls for these problems to be urgently fixed.

Also released is a new report that details the early success of a joint pilot project diagnosing and treating patients with drug-resistant tuberculosis at the primary care level in Khayelitsha, South Africa, by MSF, the City of Cape Town, and Provincial Government of the Western Cape. The report discusses how a patient-centered, decentralized health care model can lead to improved case detection and treatment outcomes, leading to a reduction of DR-TB transmission.

Although TB has afflicted mankind for millennia, we have yet to understand it in modern terms: Christine Sizemore and Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health released a statement yesterday applauding recent developments in tuberculosis diagnostics, drugs, and vaccine developments, while calling for greater research to further deepen our understanding of TB as a disease.  For example, the development of a biomarker to determine whether or not an individual is containing the infection or progressing to active disease would be highly beneficial to patient care and for conducting clinical trials of therapies and vaccines.  Increasing knowledge in these and other fundamental areas is a research priority for the NIAID.

Make TB vaccine development a priority in the Decade of Vaccines: AERAS released this statement on World TB Day calling for the scaling up of vaccine development as a critical component of efforts to reduce the global impact of TB.  They emphasize that efforts to eliminate TB will not be realized without new TB vaccines.  New TB vaccines will save lives, contribute to the fight against HIV/AIDS and reduce the burden of TB on countries and communities. 

Call to Action for Childhood TB: Participants who gathered at the International Childhood Tuberculosis Meeting March 18-19 in Stockholm, Sweden, developed a statement that calls for a number of actions to be taken by governments and multilateral organizations to address the issue of TB in children, often a neglected area when it comes to TB research and development.   While at least one million TB cases occur in children under the age of 15 every year, the true burden us unknown because of the lack of child-friendly diagnostic tools and inadequate surveillance and reporting of childhood TB cases.  Most public health programs have limited capacity to meet the demand for care and high-quality services for childhood TB, and TB care for children is not consistently integrated into HIV care and maternal and child health programs.  In addition, BCG, the only licensed TB vaccine, has limited efficacy against the most common forms of childhood TB and its effect is of limited duration.  The Call to Action calls for national TB programs to include and prioritize childhood TB in their national strategic plans in order to address millennium development goals for children and pregnant women.  All health care providers should integrate childhood TB into their services, and the scientific community should include children in clinical and operational studies. 

Tackling TB through Innovation: Bill Gates released this statement yesterday on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation blog – stating there is tremendous opportunity to turn around the situation of global TB, which takes the lives of 1.7 million people every year while infecting nine million new people.  He emphasized that the biggest problem in fighting the disease is outdated tools.  The most common test is 125 years old and misses half the cases, and the latest drugs are 40 years old and take six months to work.  However, there is a promising pipeline of new TB diagnostics, drugs and vaccines under development, and nations like India and South Africa are beginning to employ the latest diagnostic methods, like Gene Xpert, in the fight against the epidemic.  

China Pioneers International R&D Center for Global Health: The Global Alliance for TB Drug Development announced yesterday a new partnership with the International Scientific Exchange Foundation of China (ISEFC), a technical public foundation dedicated to promoting and advancing scientific development, cooperation, and exchange.  The organizations will work together to establish the Global Health R&D Center of China (GHRC), a world‐class organization focused on developing innovative and affordable new treatments for public health diseases, including tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS. 

South Africa Still Struggling with Deadly TB-HIV Epidemic: The PBS NewsHour blog The Rundown featured this post yesterday about South Africa’s TB-HIV co-infection epidemic, which brings together two of the world’s most dangerous infectious disease threats.  Ray Suarez describes his visit to a TB hospital in Durban in 2009. The multidrug-resistant (MDR) ward had started out as a small area in the basement of the hospital, where MDR-TB patients were held in isolation.  Now the entire hospital is an MDR-TB hospital and additional trailers have been set up to house MDR-TB patients.  The post features a video interview with South Africa’s health minister, Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi. “There is a very clear relationship between HIV and TB and that is why our TB situation has spun out of control,” he said.

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