USAID announces new partnerships to combat MDR-TB at White House plan launch

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Tenzin Khenrap discusses MDR-TB illness.

Tenzin Khenrap discusses MDR-TB illness.

At last week’s launch of the National Action Plan for Combating Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced expanded partnerships with Janssen, the maker of bedaquiline, the first tuberculosis drug to be produced since the 1950s, and Cepheid, maker of the GeneXpert rapid diagnostic test for drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Janssen, the pharmaceutical branch of Johnson & Johnson, will contribute an additional $15-20 million on top of their $30 million bedaquiline donation program, which provides 30,000  six month-long courses of bedaquiline in select countries over a three year period. The additional funding will be used to “improve access to treatment, address stigma, and to fund innovation in the diagnosis and delivery of care,” said Adrian Thomas, Vice President of Global Market and Public Health at Janssen.

While the bedaquiline donation program will expand access to the life-saving TB drug in some resource-poor countries, the price of the drug is still too high for other patients who are in dire need of the drug to afford, including patients in the U.S., TB advocates have pointed out.

Had bedaquiline been available a decade ago when Tenzin Khenrap was infected with MDR-TB in Tibet, he would not have lost his hearing. Khenrap spoke of his stay at a hospital in India at the launch of the plan, recalling that “conditions in the hospital were disgusting.”

“I was isolated for many months, and I felt like I was in hell,” he said.

Khenrap said he got the opportunity to come to the U.S. for treatment, and 18 months later, he was cured. The patients at the Indian hospital he had attended were not so fortunate. “I heard the news that many of the patients I was with in the hospital in India are all dead now,” he said.

“I would like to request the US government to make this plan a reality,” Khenrap said. “Please work hard to keep this promise to stop this contagious disease. We can’t wait any longer.”

The national action plan not only has impacts for patients but also has an “international impact” on other donor countries, Dr. Kitty can Weezenbeek of the Dutch organization KNCV TB Foundation, said. She said the Dutch Minister of Health was “very pleased” with the plan, and as the Netherlands currently holds the Presidency of the European Union, the Dutch government has agreed to place MDR-TB on the EU’s antimicrobial resistance agenda.

The U.S. should employ diplomatic efforts to push donors to increase contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, John Fawcett from RESULTS said. With the U.S. legally bound to contribute a maximum of 33 percent of all Global Fund contributions, increased contributions from other donors will leverage more dollars from the U.S., he said.

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