Today it is World TB Day. And something feels different this year. When I was working as a young TB doctor in Tanzania more than a decade ago, I never imagined that in 2018 there would be such momentum towards ending a disease that is now killing more people than HIV/AIDS.
Galvanized by the success of the WHO Global Ministerial Conference in Russia last year, the TB community’s voices are raised like never before, calling on leadership to step up and take the actions that are needed to end the TB epidemic. Sights are set on the first-ever UN High-Level Meeting on Ending TB, when Heads of State will convene in New York later this year to accelerate efforts. Global elimination targets are fixed for 2030. A little over a week ago, at the Delhi End TB Summit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi threw down the gauntlet and declared that India could be free of TB a full 5 years before that.
For World TB Day this year, we have just announced updates to work that we are doing with our partners in paediatric TB diagnostics, and on two projects contributing to the fight against drug resistance.
We are making significant progress in our work in paediatric TB. At least 1 million children 15 years or younger become ill with TB every year, and a quarter of a million children die from the infection; identifying TB in babies and children is a special challenge as they often cannot produce the sputum that we rely on for traditional diagnosis. Together with our partners, we are developing a disposable stool processing kit that can be used as an accessory to molecular TB tests such as the Xpert Ultra assay, enabling simple processing of stool specimens from children. Following the signing of our Memorandum of Understanding at our stakeholder meeting in January, we are now working with the South African Medical Research Council to trial this ground-breaking technology in South Africa – a country in which its deployment could have significant impact.
ReSeqTB – a global knowledgebase for predicting drug resistance – will be adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the WHO bioinformatics platform for TB surveillance. This is a major milestone for this project, which we have been working on with our partners for a number of years now. The aim is to integrate ReSeqTB into the WHO sequencing-based TB Drug Resistance Surveillance Programme. Building genetic sequencing into global diagnostics policy is an exciting advance.
We have been collaborating with WHO for a long time on TB diagnostics and laboratory strengthening too, providing research to support WHO’s technical report on critical concentrations for drug susceptibility testing of medicines used in the treatment of drug-resistant tuberculosis, which has just been released. WHO has taken a true leadership role on this, enabled by the thorough evidence analysis of FIND.
To give more insight into what it means to be working to end TB on the ground, our partners at BD Global Health have created a short video describing a project on which they are collaborating with our access team. Together with the Ministries of Health of Ethiopia and Kenya, we are supporting the accreditation of TB reference laboratories and the expansion of country capacity for universal drug susceptibility testing, so that scale-up of crucial diagnostics can be implemented in line with End TB targets and national guidelines.
On the advocacy side, we’re pleased to be part of the Louder than TB coalition, managed by our friends at TB Alliance. All this week, Louder than TB stories are being shared to highlight the real-life impact of the work that is being done. We contributed the story of Sabir, a 14-year-old boy we met in India in December last year. He had tremendous difficulty getting a TB diagnosis – seeing 5 doctors over more than 3 weeks – before he was finally diagnosed using a GeneXpert high-sensitivity test. Sabir is now on treatment and looking forward to getting back to school (he assures us that science is his favourite subject!).
The theme of World TB Day 2018 is Wanted: Leaders for a TB-free World. While strength of political will is undoubtedly critical, it is also essential to recognize those who are leading the day-to-day efforts – the researchers, scientists, doctors, patient activists and families who are driving change. I’m prouder than ever of the efforts being led by our teams at FIND around the world.
Thank you to everyone who is on this journey with us. Together, we are making history. With your continued support, I believe we really will #EndTB.