After the rise in the number of people dying from tuberculosis, a group of survivors of the disease is calling for more funding for new vaccines and for action to fund them.
According to the World Health Organization, 1.5 million people died from TB in 2020 and 10 million were infected. Campaigners are calling on world leaders to invest $1bn (730 million) annually in vaccine research, fueled by the Covid jab's success.
A new coalition of organizations, the TB Vaccine Advocacy Roadmap Group, stated that G20 finance leaders meeting at October end need to double funding, since it has never exceeded $120m (87m), in a single year.
In an open letter, TB survivors in all G20 countries stated that it was time for a complete reversal of decades of underinvestment in this disease.
Every step of the care process is losing people. Diagnostics and therapeutics for TB are far below what patients with the disease require. The Covid-19 pandemic has only made matters worse. The letter states that there are only a few new TB drugs available. Treatment can take months to years and have many dangerous side effects.
The report stated that six potential candidates for TB vaccines are available, but they needed more funding to avoid any further delays.
Uvistra Naidoo is a South African TB survivor who signed the letter. She said: "We all know vaccines are necessary to eradicate a global epidemic. TB is no exception." We also know that it is possible to develop Covid-19 vaccines in lightning speed. This shows that there is political will and the resources to make it happen.
Mike Frick, codirector of the TB Project at Treatment Action Group said that the governments spent $104bn in total on research and development for Covid-19 vaccine and therapeutics during the pandemic. This is 75 times the amount that governments and other funders have spent on TB vaccine research in the 11 years between 2005 and 2019.
This disparity is a clear abdication by governments of their responsibility to protect human rights of people living with TB, as well as scientific progress and health. As a TB community, it is time to expect and demand more.
The WHO warned earlier this month that the pandemic has reversed progress against TB. Fewer people are being diagnosed and treated for TB as more resources go to tackling Covid-19. Global funding for TB declined by 500m between 2019 and 2020.
The number of infections reported and diagnosed worldwide dropped from 7.1 million in 2019 to 5.8m by 2020. This global decrease in notifications was 40% in India, 14% in Indonesia, and 12% in Philippines. Preventive treatment was only available for a fifth of the people who were affected.
WHO stated that it believes that 4.1 million new TB cases in 2020 will not be diagnosed. This is compared to 2.9 million in the previous year.
It is important to get TB diagnosed early because if the disease is not caught in time, it can spread. Inhaling small amounts of bacteria can cause TB to spread quickly. It can take many years for the bacteria to become active. According to the WHO, around 25% of the world's population is infected with latent TB.
Despite high mortality rates, there is no vaccine. The only vaccine that is currently available is the BCG (BacillusCalmette-Gurin) vaccine. It is 100 years old and is less effective for adults than it is for older teens.
Kundai Chinyenze is the executive medical director of the International Aids Vaccine Initiative. He stated that there are promising vaccine candidates and they know how to get them moving forward. Although late-stage vaccine research can be costly, it is only a fraction of the enormous human and economic costs associated with the TB epidemic. Everyone now knows that investing in vaccines not only is smart, but it's the right thing to make.