Insufficient Funds Hinders TB Vaccine Development

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According to an article published in Aljazeera, health officials, and activists are calling for increased investment in developing new vaccines to tackle the surge in tuberculosis (TB), fueled by COVID-19 and conflicts, including in Ukraine and Sudan. At a meeting of top United Nations health leaders on Monday at the UN headquarters in New York, protesters chanted, “End TB now.” TB is currently the world’s most significant infectious disease killer, with around 4,400 people dying daily, including 700 children.  

Dr. Lucica Ditiu, executive director of the Stop TB Partnership, highlighted the importance of addressing poverty, malnutrition, and HIV, as these factors are drivers of the disease and disproportionately affect the most vulnerable in all countries. To provide all people diagnosed with TB access to quality treatment by 2027, $22bn is needed, along with access to health and social benefits so they do not suffer financial hardship. An additional $5bn a year is needed for research and innovation to develop safe and effective tuberculosis vaccines and simple one-stop shops for quality tests and care.  

As per Reuters, Bill Gates has warned that the lack of funding for developing a new vaccine against tuberculosis (TB) could delay the late-stage trials of the shot. The M72/AS01 vaccine, developed by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and a non-profit backed by Gates, has moved to the Bill and Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute for further development. However, more funding is needed for phase III trials of the vaccine, with Gates estimating a cost of $700-800m to prove it out. TB is the world’s biggest infectious disease killer, with 1.6 million deaths in 2021. Gates called on governments and philanthropists to help fund TB innovations.  

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that COVID-19 “turned our world upside-down” for three years, depriving millions of people of essential health services, including for tuberculosis. He added that conflicts across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East have made life-saving services even more challenging for people with TB. Because of a lack of funds, it has taken 19 years to get three or four vaccines for TB to phase three trials, whereas the COVID vaccine was developed in a year.  

Ditiu highlighted that the economic impact of COVID and conflicts, first and foremost in Ukraine but now also in Sudan, are having “a huge impact” on efforts to treat people with TB and diagnose new cases. Ukraine has the highest number of estimated people with TB in Europe – 34,000 – and a high number with drug-resistant tuberculosis. In Sudan, the situation for TB sufferers is probably like a ticking bomb because of the ongoing fighting and collapse of most of the health system. 

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