New York — It has been 25 years since tuberculosis (TB) was declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization and since then at least 10 declarations have stressed the burden of TB and the need to develop new products to prevent, diagnose and cure TB.
Despite this, progress in the fight against the disease – now the world's deadliest infection – has been shamefully slow, with tens of millions of lives lost and hundreds of millions of patients and families suffering needlessly. When leaders gather in New York today for the first UN High-Level Meeting on TB, the world is listening and expecting true commitment and change.
Poor treatment options are a cornerstone of our failure to eradicate TB, a communicable disease which has proven frustratingly hard to cure with available resources. Science, however, is not holding us back; a lack of political will and investment is. TB Alliance expects world leaders to issue a strong declaration of commitments to end the epidemic. Action to meet the rhetoric is needed.
Over almost two decades, TB Alliance has been dedicated to advancing TB drug research and development (R&D) through strong collaborations with governments, multilateral institutions, academia, civil society and the private sector. We are closer than ever to a world in which every person can be treated with an all-oral, highly effective, short drug regimen, regardless of how resistant their disease is to today's drugs.
By introducing novel regimens comprised of powerful new drugs, we can defeat antimicrobial resistance in TB and turn the tide. The treatment of what we call drug-resistant TB should be no more complicated, costly, lengthy – or less safe and effective – than the treatment of what we currently call drug sensitive TB.
Global, cross-border partnerships and investments, bolstered by incentives for research and product development, would bring today's ambitious hopes for ending TB by 2030 closer to reality. But high-income countries cannot close the $1.3 billion annual funding gap for R&D alone. Emerging economies including the BRICS and other high-burden TB countries must also invest their fair share in research and product development to finance tomorrow's cures.
TB Alliance expects global leaders to foster collaboration through which meaningful commitments from all countries efficiently drive the development and introduction of new TB drugs.
It must be recognized that member states who intend to address TB solely at a national level are fighting an impossible fight. As an airborne infectious disease, TB is a quintessential example of a problem in need of collaborative solutions. For example, increased levels of collaboration in the evaluation and approval of new drugs, diagnostics and vaccines would lead to more affordable, faster and more efficient implementation and uptake of these new tools.
Broad, global and public investments will also allow for a balanced debate on access to transformative new medicines. We need to utilize the cumulative experience of TB Alliance and other Product Development Partnerships in bringing together public and private sector partners from around the world to develop and ensure access to affordable, high quality products for everyone who needs them, including the poorest of the poor.
In the years to come, we expect to look back at this meeting's outcome as the moment when world leaders marshalled the political will and resources needed to finally end TB and leave no one behind.