WHO Global Ministerial Conference

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called on world leaders to “step up scientific tuberculosis research and develop effective diagnostic tools, vaccines and medicines, including those aimed at treating resistant forms of tuberculosis.”

Speaking at the first WHO Global Ministerial Conference, Ending tuberculosis in the SDG era: a multisectoral response, in Moscow, Russian Federation, on 16–17 November 2017, President Putin emphasized the need for urgency and a collaborative approach to tackle TB. These themes recurred throughout the meeting, where 120 national delegations, including Ministers of Health, joined leaders of UN organizations, development agencies, regional bodies and NGOs, to discuss how to accelerate implementation of the WHO End TB Strategy.

TB is now the leading infectious disease killer worldwide. Multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) is a growing public health crisis. For the Russian Federation, the issue is close to home: the BRICS countries together carry over 40% of the worldwide TB burdeni. Global action has saved 49 million lives since 2000. Yet, with 10.4 million people acquiring TB each year, current investments fall far short of what is needed to end the epidemic – particularly in TB research and development (R&D).

Ahead of the Russian meeting, Treatment Action Group (TAG) released their 2016 TB research funding trends report, which highlighted major gaps that must be filled in order to meet Global Plan to End TB targets. In 2016, diagnostics R&D received just $79.8 million of the substantial $3.4 billion that is needed by 2020. Major funding shortfalls were also evident in treatment and vaccine R&D.

Following a panel discussion on science, research and innovation opened by Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), key Product Development Partnerships (PDPs) were invited to present priorities in diagnostics, treatment and vaccination R&D. Catharina Boehme, CEO of FIND, was joined by Melvin Spigelman, President and CEO of TB Alliance and Jacqueline Shea, CEO of Aeras. A joint statement released after the session, “Ending TB means investing in R&D”, also co-signed by Nick Drager, Executive Director of TBVI, summarizes their remarks and call for action on TB R&D funding.

Alongside the technical presentations, TB survivors told moving stories about their arduous paths to diagnosis and challenges in accessing life-saving care. These stories provided a poignant reminder that underfunding and under-prioritizing TB elimination has a human cost.

In general, the atmosphere was optimistic. The announcement by President Putin of a BRICS TB research network was particularly welcomed. Dr Tereza Kasaeva, Deputy Director of the Department of Medical Care, Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation, described it as “an important platform to advance collaboration, mobilize resources and revamp implementation of TB R&D by the countries carrying the highest burden of the disease.”

The conference concluded with the signing of The Moscow Declaration to End TB by 75 ministers. The declaration is a commitment to increase action, monitor progress, and bolster accountability in order to achieve the goal of ending TB by 2030. This declaration will also inform the first-ever UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on TB, planned for September 2018.

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Creswell J et al. Tuberculosis in BRICS: challenges and opportunities for leadership within the post-2015 agendahttp://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/92/6/13-133116/en/