New tactics needed to eliminate TB

Thursday, September 27, 2018

A better health system, access to affordable drugs, more investment in research and innovation are needed to stop the Tuberculosis epidemic, says President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The President believes that investing in research and development is critical if scientists develop new diagnostics, vaccines and medicines – and find innovative ways to deal with the social determinants of Tuberculosis and its transmission.

“It is only with new tools that we can achieve the dramatic reduction in the incidence of TB needed to ensure total elimination of this disease by 2030 or earlier.

“To succeed, we need to ensure that drugs are affordable,” President Ramaphosa told the High-Level Meeting on Tuberculosis held on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday.

TB infects some 10.4 million people across the world.

President Ramaphosa said TB has many social determinants, including poverty, unemployment, poor nutrition, overcrowding and social stigma that fuel the spread of diseases.

This means that the poor and marginalised carry a disproportionate disease burden.

In South Africa, TB remains the biggest cause of mortality in the general population, especially among men. There were 322 000 new TB infections in South Africa in 2017, which is a significant decline from the 2015 estimate of 438 000.

President Ramaphosa attributed the decline to a strengthened response in the form of the rapid roll-out of new diagnostics and drugs.

“South Africa’s large antiretroviral programme has significantly contributed to better TB outcomes, including successful treatment and reduced mortality.

“In South Africa, 60% of people living with HIV are co-infected with TB.”

He added that any strategy that does not address both the TB and HIV epidemics will not succeed.

To help South Africa mitigate the impact of TB, President Ramaphosa said the country is a member of the BRICS TB Research Network, which is a collaboration among BRICS countries on research and development to produce new TB diagnostics, vaccines and medicines.

This is important as the BRICS countries contribute 40% of all drug-susceptible TB and 50% of all drug-resistant TB globally.

Furthermore, South Africa supports the “Key Asks” identified through a consultative process led by the World Health Organisation, Stop TB Partnership, civil society and other interested parties.

President Ramaphosa said it is the adherence of the 2001 WTO Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, which recognises that intellectual property rights should be interpreted in a manner that supports public health and promotes access to medicines for all.

He said all efforts to end TB will not succeed unless we are able to implement universal health coverage.

“The achievement of universal health coverage is essential because those who are most affected by TB are those who have the greatest difficulty accessing health care.”

The meeting concluded with the adoption of an ambitious Political Declaration on TB, endorsed by Heads of State, which is intended to strengthen action and investments for ending of TB and save millions of lives. –