26 March 2013

Africa: Tuberculosis and Major Pandemics Remain a Critical Challenge to Development


Deputy Minister for Development under the Minister of Foreign Affairs,  Pascal Canfin  is a former Member of the European Parliament and journalist at "Alternatives économiques".

Tuberculosis is a major challenge, with 8.7 million new cases detected worldwide in 2011. In developing countries, TB is still having an impact on the poorest and most vulnerable populations. Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis is a particularly difficult challenge for patients, who must undergo treatment that requires more time, is more costly, involves more constraints, and offers less likelihood of a cure. This situation is a burden for countries that do not have the resources required to combat this scourge.

Immunocompromised individuals, such as people living with HIV, are more vulnerable to the disease. During a visit to the clinic at the Abidjan correctional facility and penitentiary in December 2012, I witnessed the extent to which the prison population is vulnerable to tuberculosis, starting with those who already have HIV, for whom the disease is the leading cause of death.

The efforts of governments, civil society, and the international community over the course of the past decade have been fruitful. The Millennium Development Goal of slowing and reversing epidemiological trends has already been achieved. The number of new TB cases is decreasing with each passing year (2.2% reduction between 2010 and 2011). But much still remains to be done.

The programs implemented by organizations that receive French support have contributed greatly to these successes. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which provides close to 90% of the international aid to fight tuberculosis, has resulted in the detection and treatment of 9.7 million cases since 2002, including 64,000 cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. As the second-largest contributor to this organization, France provides direct funding of €61 million to the fight against tuberculosis each year. France also provides technical expertise to countries that partner with the Global Fund to increase the impact of the programs.

Our commitment to combating tuberculosis also translates into our support for UNITAID, to which France contributes half of the annual budget. UNITAID has committed close to US$ 300 million since 2006 to programs intended to bridge gaps in care, most notably in treating pediatric tuberculosis and multidrug- resistant strains of the disease. Thanks to UNITAID, more than one million children have received treatment for tuberculosis. In terms of bilateral aid, French provides support through its Agence française de développement (French Development Agency) to the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease.

Lastly, I would like to congratulate the French research teams who are working to develop new vaccines, diagnostic tools and therapies which are suitable in the context of developing countries, and which can be used to increase the effectiveness of programs to combat tuberculosis.

TB, like the other major pandemics, remains a crucial challenge for development. The ever-growing number of multidrug-resistant cases reminds us that this pandemic is still a major international health threat, and that much still remains to be done to combat this scourge. France - the largest donor in public health among the G20 countries relative to its wealth - remains actively committed to combating this disease on behalf of the poorest populations. It is something we continue to be proud of.

 - Pascal Canfin, Deputy Minister for Development

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