By Loren Becker, Global Health Program Analyst, FasterCures
Today, as health workers and communities globally observe World TB Day, 25,000 new people will be diagnosed with tuberculosis and nearly 5,000 will die from the disease. Most TB sufferers are adults in their working years, costing the world about $12 billion in economic productivity each year. Many more also are infected with HIV/AIDS, compounding an already massive humanitarian crisis, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. The slogan for World TB Day is “I am stopping TB.” Unfortunately, TB control efforts are unable to keep up with the epidemic: a new report released by the World Health Organization this week tells us that the number of new cases and deaths continues to grow with each passing year.
Many factors contribute to the severity of the global TB problem, not least of which is that the tools we have to fight the disease are antiquated and inadequate. In a world where we can splice genes and grow new tissue out of stem cells, very little attention is paid to improving the options for patients infected with this disease that has long since ceased to be a concern for most of us in the developed world. As a result, health workers in the poorest countries are stuck with a vaccine that is over 80 years old and only protects children, drugs that are over 40 years old and difficult to stomach, and diagnostics that frequently fail to give clear, actionable results. Harsh treatment regimens frequently lead to noncompliance, which, in turn, lead to drug resistance. Increasingly, health workers are confronting strains of TB bacteria that are able to resist some or even most of the available drugs.
Despite the dire statistics, TB experts see room for optimism. As awareness of the global epidemic has grown, so has funding and attention from governments, foundations, and other sources. In the last decade, several new initiatives have joined the fight to control TB and to develop better tools to aid future efforts. Researchers within some of these groups are making key contributions in terms of expanding our basic scientific knowledge about TB, as well as translating that knowledge into improved vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics. The entrance of these new players has led to exciting advances and expanded the opportunities for those concerned to get involved in stopping TB.
Many of the new research groups, as well as their more established counterparts, are nonprofit organizations that receive most or all of their funding from governments and foundations. Private philanthropists also can, and do, play an important role in funding research to develop and deliver new tools in the fight against TB. In order to help these donors understand the field of TB research, the major nonprofit players, and targeted areas of philanthropic R&D investment, the FasterCures Philanthropy Advisory Service is including TB as one of four diseases covered during the project’s pilot phase. The TB module of our Philanthropy Advisory Service is expected launch this June. Through this effort, FasterCures is stopping TB.