As the UN member nation approved a political declaration to end tuberculosis (TB) around the world by 2030, world leaders and experts have laid emphasis on finding a new and effective vaccine against the world's oldest and deadliest infectious diseases.
The UN member states formally adopted the declaration of the High-Level Meeting (HLM) on the Fight Against Tuberculosis at the 78th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Friday.
The declaration lays out ambitious new targets for the next five years that include reaching 90 per cent of people with TB prevention and care services, providing social benefit packages to those who have the disease, and licencing at least one new vaccine.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) TB is the second-leading infectious killer worldwide after Covid-19 as it claimed the lives of 1.6 million people alone in 2021, although it is a preventable and curable disease. The only available vaccine against TB is more than a century old.
Addressing the meeting, Dennis Francis, president of the General Assembly, asked,Why, after all the progress we have made—from sending a man to the moon to bringing the world to our fingertips—have we been unable to defeat a preventable but curable disease that kills over 4,400 people a day?
He called on stakeholders to use all the tools at their disposal to advance science and innovation until a vaccine is found.
UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed called for action to tackle the main drivers of TB - poverty, undernutrition, lack of access to healthcare, the prevalence of HIV infections, diabetes, mental health, and smoking.
She pointed out that armed conflict, economic upheavals, and climate disasters create a breeding ground for the spread of infectious diseases in a vicious cycle that perpetuates inequality and urged states to prioritise tuberculosis on their national agendas.
Sharing her personal heart-breaking story of losing her 50-year-old father to tuberculosis 37 years ago this week, Amina stressed: "What we need is a vaccine.Let's end tuberculosis now.It's possible."
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, also emphasised the need for a new vaccine, noting that the only licenced vaccine was developed more than a century ago.
He said the WHO established a TB Vaccine Acceleration Council to facilitate the development, licencing, and equitable use of new vaccines.
The WHO DG said many of the targets established at the first high-level tuberculosis meeting in 2018 were not met, mainly because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He also said the goal of treating 44 million people with TB fell short by about 10 million people, and the goal of reaching 30 million people with preventive treatment fell short by about half.
Besides, Tedros said there are also about 500,000 drug-resistant TB cases each year.
Bertrand Pfouminzhouer Kampoer, executive director of For Impacts in Social Health and Civil Society Taskforce, gave an overview of the Francophone Africa Regional Adaptation of Map TB Assessment.
In the ensuing discussion, speakers underscored the importance of implementing an inclusive and multisectoral approach to fighting TB, including drawing lessons from the Covid‑19 pandemic, with some sharing progress to that end, while others highlighted challenges and identified key areas for action.
Many delegations spotlighted their successes in fighting TB, including Saudi Arabia's representative, who reported that, working with public and private partners and communicating the importance of early detection, his country was able to reduce TB incidents by 21 per cent and death rates by 12.3 per cent compared to 2018, putting it on track to achieve its goals in line with the global strategy.
Pointing out that "TB is a social disease", the representative of the International Federations of Medical Students underlined that addressing the social, economic, and environmental determinants of TB must be done with the meaningful engagement of all sectors.