Global Health experts have called on world leaders to improve funding for Tuberculosis (TB) in a bid to reduce the burden of the disease.
The experts who spoke during a virtual press briefing on Thursday said more investment is required for the world to produce a safe and effective vaccine against the disease by 2025.
In a statement issued after the briefing, the executive director of the Stop TB Partnership, Lucica Ditiu, said the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, which was first administered on July 18, 1921 is the only existing vaccine against TB.
Ms Ditiu said it is time for world leaders to deliver new, effective, safe, equitable and affordable TB vaccines.
The campaigner said; “What the world has achieved in the past year with regards to the development of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines is astonishing and worth celebrating,”, she said.
“Now is the time to invest the same level of energy and funding into developing new vaccines for another airborne, deadly infectious disease—tuberculosis.”
Tuberculosis is a contagious disease that is caused by a bacterium (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) that often affects the lungs.
In 2019, an estimated 10 million people fell ill from TB, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that in 2020, nearly two million people died from the disease.
The worst impacts are felt in some of the poorest parts of the world and among vulnerable groups.
Currently, there is only one vaccine in existence against TB, the BCG vaccine which is 100 years old.
The vaccine has proven effective against TB meningitis and in protecting against severe TB in infants and young children.
Ms Ditiu, however, said the BCG vaccine offers variable and mostly poor protection against lung disease in adolescents and adults, the populations that are more likely to spread TB in the community.
Producing new vaccine
David Lewinsohn, chair of Stop TB Partnership, said new and more effective vaccines that can prevent TB in adolescents and adults are needed to interrupt ongoing transmission.
He said in 2018, world leaders committed to developing new TB vaccines “but failed to deliver the necessary investments for it.”
“Despite our best efforts, we are still falling short of targets set at the 2018 United Nations High-Level Meeting on Tuberculosis, and at this rate, we will not meet the Sustainable Development Goals target (SDG 3.3) of ending TB by 2030,” he said.
He noted that more than 15 TB vaccines have been in development for 15 years, but none of them have been approved for use.
He said recent significant trial results suggest new and effective TB vaccines can be developed in the coming years if appropriate investments are made.
“With multiple vaccine candidates preparing for late-stage efficacy trials and next-generation vaccines based on mRNA and other novel platforms on the way, there has never been a better time to invest in TB vaccine research and development,” said Lewinsohn.
Caroll Nawina, a TB survivor and advocate for policy change at national, regional and international levels, said effective vaccines are critical to ending the TB epidemic.
“But having a vaccine is not enough if it is not affordable and accessible to all. The distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has clearly shown the inequalities and inequities of a system that favors the rich,” she said.
“We will not accept such a situation in TB, and we must ensure future TB vaccines reach those most in need.”
Huge funding gap
Ms Ditiu lamented the already existing funding gap in producing a new and effective TB Vaccine for the world.
She said only US$117 million was invested in TB vaccine research in 2019, against a target of at least US$550 million per year for four years to achieve the 2025 deadline.
“By comparison, COVID-19 vaccine research received over US$100 billion in funding over the past year,” she said.
“Today, we call on the world to provide sufficient financial resources and political will by 2023 to allow for the rollout of an effective TB vaccine by 2025. Lessons learned from recent pandemics clearly show that it is possible,” Ms Ditiu said.
Improved local funding
Speaking at a press conference to announce the 2021 National TB Conference, Bethrand Odume, the executive director of KNCV Nigeria said Nigeria accounts for only 30 per cent of its TB funding.
Mr Odume explained that 70 per cent of TB funding comes from international partners and donors.
The conference, themed; “Sustaining a Resilient TB Response in Nigeria: Addressing the impact of COVID-19 and other Diseases”, is scheduled to be held at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, between November 9 and 11, 2021.
“Funding constraints have remained the key challenge towards combating this deadly disease in Nigeria and over the past five years, it has been largely driven by external funding sources,” he said.
He said to meet the estimated funding gap along with other pertinent issues, there is a need to create an avenue to foster access to research, technologies, innovations and build collaborations for TB control in Nigeria.
He said that the National TB Conference 2021 will provide a platform for all stakeholders to deliberate on the magnitude and dimensions of the effects of the pandemic on TB control in Nigeria.
“Of equally great concern is the increasing gap in access to TB services to the paediatric population and other vulnerable groups.”
“Also, people who have TB are usually more vulnerable to other infections including being at a higher risk of developing complications from COVID-19 due to pre-existing lung damage.”
In his address, the executive secretary of the Stop TB Partnership Nigeria, Ayodele Awe, said the conference would create an avenue to stimulate the generation of new collaborations for home grown TB research and innovation.
He said it would also improve synergy, collaboration and integration between TB, HIV and other services as well as create awareness and promote best practice in TB programming in the country.
Also, the chairman of the Scientific Committee, Lawal Umar, said the conference would focus on Eight thematic areas that would x-ray relevant topics surrounding the fight against TB in the country.
M Umar said some of the thematic areas include, political commitment, domestic resource mobilisation, impacts and lessons learnt for TB control, TB in correctional facilities, IDP camps and other vulnerable settings.
He encouraged scientists, health experts, academias to send in abstracts ahead of the conference.
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