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Global leaders meet at first-ever UN tuberculosis summit

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Governments must act rapidly to expand access to safer, more effective, injection-free treatment regimens

As global leaders gather for the first-ever United Nations tuberculosis (TB) Summit in New York this week, the international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)/Doctors Without Borders called on governments to save more lives by scaling up TB testing and treatment recently, and make real commitments to develop more effective and easier-to-use tools to defeat TB tomorrow.

New global TB figures released last week by the World Health Organisation (WHO) show that the response to the world’s deadliest infectious disease remains poor and slow, resulting in the loss of 1.6 million lives in 2017, with 10 million people developing TB in 2017.

One of the key reasons for this abysmal TB report card is that governments are slow to scale up TB testing and treatment tools that are available today. For example, WHO first recommended use of a newer oral drug bedaquiline for treatment of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) in 2013. However, uptake of bedaquiline and other newer drugs remains very slow, with the medicines remaining inaccessible to almost 90 per cent of people who could have benefitted from them in 2017.

As the WHO just recommended bedaquiline now be used as the backbone of treatment for all people with MDR-TB — instead of medicines that need to be injected—governments must act rapidly to expand access to safer, more effective, injection-free treatment regimens.

“We have seen too many senseless and painful deaths in countries where we work, because people are still not getting access to today’s best-available TB tests and treatments that are more effective and cause fewer severe side effects,” said Dr Gabriella Ferlazzo, TB/HIV advisor with MSF’s Southern Africa Medical Unit.

“On September 26th, world leaders have a historic opportunity to turn the tide on the global TB epidemic by making firm commitments for rapid scale up of new tools for effective diagnosis and treatment of the disease,” added Dr Ferlazzo.

“How is it possible that more than sixty years ago, we managed to send people to the moon and to the deepest point in the ocean, yet people affected with one of the most ancient diseases in human history continue to suffer and die because we’ve failed to find a fast, safe and simple cure for TB?” said Sharonann Lynch, HIV & TB Advisor for MSF’s access campaign.

Despite the overwhelming challenges that TB poses, commitments from governments to support and intensify research and development for TB have been extremely insufficient, with an estimated $1.3 billion funding gap per year. Governments need to step up and both significantly increase funding for research, while also mobilising the research community and supporting new collaborative research models.

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