News / Africa

    In Cameroon, TB Vaccine Breakthrough Elusive

    Tuberculosis vaccine breakthrough eludes researchers in Cameroon due to 'clever' nature of TB-causing bacteria

    Multimedia

    Audio

    Deaths from tuberculosis are increasing in the developing world and especially in Africa.  It’s the world’s second deadliest infectious disease after HIV/AIDS.  In 2008, nearly two million people died of TB and researchers warn that mortality rates will surge further if new drugs and vaccines are not developed.

    Linda is a 35-year-old Cameroonian mother of two.  She’s one of 35.000 people in the country diagnosed every year with tuberculosis, which kills some 7,000.  Her problem is compounded by the fact that she’s also infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

    X-ray of patient with tuberculosis
    X-ray of patient with tuberculosis

    “It is very difficult,” she said. “Several times, I consider suicide but then I think about my children and want to be there for them.  I have had TB for several years and despite all the drugs, I am still ill.  The doctor says my problem is severe because I also have HIV.  I have to take countless numbers of medicines every day and sometimes I just can’t stand it.”

    Like others in her condition, Linda longs for the day when an effective remedy will be found.

    In early October, more than 200 researchers met for an international symposium in the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde.  They discussed the disease, but had no new drugs or vaccines to report.  They could only talk about new ways to improve existing treatments.

    The meeting was hosted by the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases, a non-profit research organization trying to find new medicines for the treatment of neglected, infectious diseases like TB, malaria and Dengue fever.

    One of the conference participants, Prof. Barry Clifton of the US National Institutes of Health, says the absence of new drugs is steadily increasing the number of deaths from TB:

    “I don’t feel very optimistic about a breakthrough any time in the foreseeable future unless people put more effort and emphasis and research into tackling TB,” he said.  “At our current level, I think we’ll keep the pace to the point where we hopefully don’t have many people who don’t have any options.  But we’re not going to win the race.”

    Paul Herrling in a discussion with symposium attendee
    Paul Herrling in a discussion with symposium attendee

    The only available vaccine for TB, known as Bacille-Calmette-Guerin (BCG) was developed almost 90 years ago.  It’s a live vaccine similar to the TB bacterium and has been improved over the years to provide immunity with the first dose.

    But while it reduces risks of severe forms of TB in early childhood, it is not very effective in adults, who can be infected even if they were vaccinated in their youth. And BCG is not safe for children with HIV because it can spur the onset of the disease in those with weakened immune systems.  Across Africa, most children are given the vaccine without knowledge of their HIV status.

    The link Between HIV and TB

    Prof. Paul Herrling is head of the Novartis Institutes for Developing World Medical Research. He says there are a number of reasons for the current dilemma:

    “The first one is that the last medicines that we had for TB are about 40 years old, and one thing that people did not know at that time is that this is a very clever bacterium and when they’re treated with the same medicines for a long time, they learn to escape it.  That’s what we call resistance,” he said.

    Scientists say TB strains can vary from multi-drug resistant (MDR-TB) to extensively drug resistant (XDR-TB).

    The most prominent way the TB virus gains resistance is in patients’ failing to complete their treatments.

    Researchers say fighting tuberculosis is made more difficult by the increasing number of people, especially in Africa, like Linda, who are also infected with HIV.  Prof. Christopher Kuaban of the University of Yaounde in Cameroon says HIV/AIDS patients are up to 20 times more likely to develop TB than people without HIV:

    “HIV is an infection that destroys your immune system. TB is contained by this immune system – so if your immune system breaks down when you’re infected by TB, the TB germ has nothing to fear because there’s nobody to destroy it. That’s why in any country where HIV is common, TB becomes very common,” he said.

    Ongoing research inconclusive

    Current treatment is cumbersome: it takes six to nine months and patients must take several tablets several times a day.  Research in several parts of the world is focusing on developing treatment that’s easier for the patient, as well as vaccines that may replace BCG.

    Clinical trials are about to begin on one vaccine candidate - called AERAS-422.  They will be conducted in Kenya, South Africa, Uganda and India by the non-profit research organization Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation.  It recently obtained a $785,000 three-year-grant from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  Officials say the results may be available by the year 2020.

    University of Yaounde (Cameroon) TB
    University of Yaounde (Cameroon) TB

    Funding is a problem say researchers like Barry Clifton:

    “A normal pharmaceutical company will take a hundred people working for several years to get a candidate to put into clinical trials," he said. "With TB, we don’t have those kinds of resources because it’s a developing world disease, and there’s no financial incentive.  So, we try to do the best we can with the small resources we have.  It’s market-driven, so the big pharmaceutical companies are responsible for making money [for their shareholders].”

    Meantime, the epidemic continues to grow, especially in Africa, where cities are increasingly crowded, where poor people find little to eat to bolster their immune systems, and where healthcare services are not adequate.

    As a result, more and more people like Linda and her children are victims of stigma and discrimination. They are increasingly turning their backs on hospitals and heading for traditional healers and proliferating prayer churches for help.

    TB’s intimidating complexities

    TB is caused by a bacterium known as the Mycobacterium tuberculosis.  It’s spread from person to person through tiny airborne droplets of infected sputum.  It can affect almost any tissue or organ in the body, with the most common site being the lungs.  Basically, it cripples the human immune system, leaving patients vulnerable to deadly bacterial infection.

    The WHO says of the nine million people diagnosed with TB worldwide last year, a third live in Africa.  It’s currently the leading cause of death among people with HIV/AIDS on the continent.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora