One year ago today, Heads of State and Government from across the globe made a promise at the United Nations to a launch a comprehensive effort to end the global epidemic of tuberculosis, now the biggest infectious disease killer.
“Today is a historic day in our battle with an ancient disease… TB knows no borders. Everyone is at risk, but it thrives where there is poverty, malnutrition or conflict,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO).
A lot has happened in the past year, including decisions at the Presidential level to ramp up action, for instance in Mozambique, to major countries like India moving to increase access to the latest TB treatments and end the use of painful TB treatment injections.
In the US, two US Senators have boldly taken up the call to action. On August 1st, Senators Bob Menendez, D-NJ, and Todd Young, R-IN, introduced the End Tuberculosis Now Act of 2019, S 2438.
“There are plenty of opportunities to air our political differences, but this epidemic should not be one of them. As the world’s most lethal disease, we need to make sure we are fully engaged and committed to doing our part in the fight to end TB once and for all,” stated Senator Menendez in a press release.
The bill represents a revolution in the approach to tuberculosis, by mandating a comprehensive response, including prevention, and addressing the human rights of affected communities.
Recognizing that leadership to end TB must come from within affected countries themselves, it mandates support for:
“independent accountability mechanisms and inclusive country level systems to measure progress and ensure that commitments made by governments and relevant stakeholders are met”
The bill imposes new requirements to ensure maximum impact of US assistance, including a full program evaluation and detailed reporting to Congress (with data broken down by age and sex).
“Since tuberculosis was declared a national emergency in 1993, it has continued to impact countless lives,” said Senator Young. “We must enhance our efforts globally to end the spread of this highly infectious and deadly disease, and that’s exactly what our bill plans to do.”
A few other highlights from the bill:
· It emphasizes providing patient support, ending stigma, and improving quality of care.
· It mandates a comprehensive approach to combat all forms of TB, including through linkages with private sector, active case finding, and providing screening and preventive therapy to all close contacts.
· It requires USAID to report on its support for effective use of resources from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, which also enjoys strong bipartsan support.
· It supports “an aggressive research agenda to develop vaccines as well as new tools to diagnose, treat and prevent TB globally”
Research is crucial if we are to end this disease. According to a new estimate, 19.1 million people around the world are infected with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), and the infection is growing in every region of the world. The study, published in The Lancet, states that prevalence of the MDR-TB infection is around ten times higher among those younger than 15 years.
There is currently no proven regimen to cure MDR-TB infection, though scientists at the US National Institutes of Health are working on one. (For active, highly drug-resistant TB disease, options are improving for patients, with a breakthrough announced earlier this year.)
If you are not sure what MDR-TB can do to a person have a look at this shocking — and very inspiring — new video about three South Africa health professionals and their personal battle with the disease.
How are you marking the one-year anniversary of the historic, UN High Level Meeting on Tuberculosis, where heads of state and government committed to a visionary plan to end the epidemic? One way you can help is to take action by urging all US Senators to co-sponsor this bill.