Science

There is not enough will and money to eradicate tuberculosis (expert) – Sciences et Avenir

Tuberculosis has replaced Covid-19 as the deadliest contagious disease, lamented the scourge expert, who decries the lack of mobilization to eradicate it.

Mel Spiegelman is president of the TB Alliance, a non-profit association whose mission is to bring more effective and cheaper TB drugs, especially to poor countries.

Welcoming the extraordinary mobilization against Covid-19, which in two years has made it possible to acquire an arsenal of safe and effective tests, vaccines and treatments, he cannot help but note that “the comparison with TB is quite striking.” interview with AFP.

Before the Covid pandemic, more people died from tuberculosis than from any other infectious disease in the world: 1.5 million deaths annually.

And as the number of Covid-related deaths steadily declines, “tuberculosis has regained that dubious distinction,” Mel Spiegelman points out, citing supporting figures.

TB, caused by bacteria that primarily affects the lungs, kills 4,109 people a day, according to the Tuberculosis Alliance.

Over the past month, there have been an average of just under 1,450 officially reported Covid-19 deaths per day, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

– “Big failure” –

Not only does interest in serious TB control appear to have waned, but the pandemic has had a devastating impact.

The pandemic and its restrictions hamper the diagnosis and treatment of patients, and medical centers are often commandeered to deal with Covid-19.

The result was not long in coming: in 2020, the number of deaths from tuberculosis increased for the first time in a decade.

“We went from what I honestly consider incredibly slow but progress nonetheless to reversing” the trend, recalls Dr. Spiegelman, who views it as a “major setback.”

The billions thrown into the fight against Covid-19, the economic crisis and geopolitical tensions are all factors that have affected funding for the fight against tuberculosis.

Most donors to the TB Alliance were unwilling to provide funding for more than one year at a time and reduced their allocations.

The UK, traditionally the main donor, has not contributed anything this year.

“I am very concerned that the progress made — which has already been undermined by Covid — could worsen further,” Spiegelman said.

– “Change Deal” –

Ironically, these difficulties are occurring at the same time as a revolution in the treatment of antibiotic-resistant strains. About 5% of the 9.5 million people who fall ill with TB each year have the disease.

Number of deaths from tuberculosis in the world from 2000 to 2020 (AFP/Archive – Romain ALLIMANT)

Until recently, “the situation with drug-resistant tuberculosis was very serious,” recalls the head of the TB Alliance. Patients had to undergo very heavy daily treatment for up to two years with significant side effects.

The probability of cure was only 20-30%.

The new treatment, approved in 2019 by US health authorities, is “a game-changer,” Dr. Spiegelman said.

It consists of only three tablets a day for six months, has far fewer side effects and a 90% cure rate.

– Possible eradication –

But due to the lack of funds for the wide distribution of this new method of treatment, he is still far from lip trimming, the doctor admits.

Tuberculosis isn’t called the “disease of the poor” for nothing, he protests. “If the rich around the world noticed this, I think we would see a very different reaction,” he said.

At the current state of the art, TB vaccine candidates are languishing due to a lack of funding to develop them, and the same goes for rapid tests.

So everything comes down to money.

“If the resources were in place, I bet you (tuberculosis) could be eradicated,” says Mel Spiegelman.

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