From our CEO

World TB Day 2021

World TB Day 2021: Message from our Head of TB

One year ago, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and life as we knew it changed forever. When early modelling data became available, it was not surprising to learn about the grave impact that COVID-19 would have on tuberculosis (TB) – an airborne infectious disease discovered 139 years ago.

In just one year, COVID-19 has been responsible for the loss of over 2.7 million lives, and the world has mobilized to defeat it. In contrast, as our Scientific Advisory Committee member Madhu Pai wrote this week, TB kills almost 4,000 people every single day but has never received even a fraction of the attention given to the coronavirus pandemic. Further, a recent data brief published by the Stop TB Partnership highlights that 1 million fewer people were diagnosed with TB, or started TB treatment in 2020, in the nine high-burden countries that represent 60% of the global TB burden (compared with 2019).

The speed with which COVID-19 tools (tests, therapeutics, and vaccines) have been developed and rolled out is unprecedented and we must capitalize on this momentum to recover and accelerate progress against other diseases including TB. My recent commentary in the Lancet Microbe along with Sergio Carmona (acting CEO and Chief Medical Officer) and Madhu Pai, lays out a five-point approach to learn from innovative COVID-19 approaches and re-imagine TB diagnosis.

This World TB Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) is urging countries to implement priority recommendations from a 2020 progress report on TB issued by the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, to put the world on track to reach agreed TB targets by 2022 and beyond. One of the recommendations stresses the need to scale-up systematic screening for TB to help close gaps in diagnosis and find the missing millions who are never known to health systems. WHO has also just released updated recommendations and implementation guidance on systematic screening for TB disease, including new recommendations on the use of chest radiography to improve early detection of TB.

Since 2017, FIND has been working to generate data on the utility of computer-aided detection (CAD) technologies for TB using chest X-rays (CXR) and has generated evidence in support of the WHO guidance. Do explore our computer-aided detection (CAD) technologies for TB page and check out our report published today:

Digital chest radiography and CAD solutions for TB diagnosis

FIND TB projects spotlight:

  • FEND-TB: along with Feasibility of Novel Diagnostics for TB in Endemic Countries (FEND-TB) consortium members, FIND is accelerating the development of early-stage new TB diagnostics by providing free of charge access to open trial protocols for clinical studies, laboratory evaluations, and economic analysis, along with transmission modelling. Patient recruitment will take place at sites across Africa, Asia, and South America will begin next month. Submit your technology here.
  • JEET: ahead of World TB Day, we supported the first-ever survivor led “India TB Summit”, showcasing the impact of public–private partnership in the Joint Effort for Elimination of Tuberculosis (JEET) model. JEET has increased TB notifications almost threefold between 2018 and 2020 and supported 80% of people with TB to successfully complete their treatment.
  • OptiDx: in collaboration with LLamasoft and USAID Global Health Supply Chain Program-Procurement and Supply Management (GHSC-PSM), we developed an open-access diagnostic network optimization tool, OptiDx – learn more about it in our new brochure.
  • TB-CAPT: we are leading a consortium of partners in the TB-CAPT (Close the gap, increase Access, Provide adequate Therapy) project, aiming to improve TB diagnosis and management at the point of care. The project includes a series of clinical trials in Tanzania, Mozambique, and South Africa that will evaluate the impact of novel diagnostic interventions on outcomes, including the effects of expanding TB testing strategies to people living with HIV. The TB-CAPT project website was just unveiled – follow progress and stay tuned for updates on the clinical trials commencing soon.
  • TriageTB: FIND and Partners are validating, in a real-world setting, a rapid point-of-care triage test for active TB that can be conducted outside of a laboratory. Patient recruitment has now begun across TriageTB’s three recruitment sites – South Africa, the Gambia, and Uganda. The first recruitment phase is scheduled to run until the end of April. Read more.
  • WE-END TB: Our Women’s Empowerment to End TB (WE-END TB) project has organized a 2-day women-led walkathon in 3 districts of rural Karnataka to raise awareness about TB and will be conducted in a COVID-19 safe manner. Follow us on social for live updates and do cheer them on!

We are also happy to share that this year, FIND is supporting 70 TB programme staff, TB survivors and colleagues from high-burden countries to attend the upcoming McGill Summer Institute in infectious diseases and global health courses, thanks to a Swiss TB Foundation award received by our former colleague Tobias Broger for the TB LAM work he undertook while he was at FIND. The course is a regular fixture on the FIND calendar, with many of our colleagues joining the teaching staff each year.

As some countries consider new lockdowns, and the world continues to grapple with managing COVID-19, it often seems as if the clock is ticking slowly. But each minute, we lose three lives to TB. Together, we can #EndTB: I invite you to join me and my colleagues in the 3 for TB challenge and share widely.

Morten

Morten Ruhwald is Head of TB at FIND

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