News / Health

Gates Foundation Continues to Fight Tuberculosis

X-rays from a tuberculosis patient at A. G. Holley Hospital in Lantana, Florida, Dec. 2009 (file photo).
X-rays from a tuberculosis patient at A. G. Holley Hospital in Lantana, Florida, Dec. 2009 (file photo).

Multimedia

Audio
By Abigail Martin

Tuberculosis, or TB, is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes, dispersing the germ—mycobacterium TB—into the air. The World Health Organization says there were an estimated 8.7 million new cases of TB in 2011. Nearly all TB cases are found in low and middle income countries. People infected with HIV, the AIDS virus, are especially vulnerable because of their weakened immune systems.


TB is a difficult disease to treat because some strains of the bacterium have developed a resistance to drugs. But Dr. Peter Small, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is impressed by recent research developments.
 
“There were probably forty years in which there was very little, arguably no, progress because there was no effort,” he explained. “What we’ve seen in the last decade is an acceleration. And it’s really changed what was a vicious cycle of neglect and despondency into one in which we’re starting to see exciting new products. We have now, for the first time, the capacity for untrained healthcare workers to definitively diagnose TB within two hours and know if it’s drug resistant. More than two and a half million of those tests run in the world.”
 
Small is the Gates Foundation’s senior program officer for TB. He has researched the genetic variability of the disease and has seen the effects of TB firsthand while living in India.
 
He says it’s important to determine which drug combinations provide the best treatment. Small says streamlining approval of effective drug regimens allows those who are infected to receive treatment sooner. But drugs are not the ultimate solution when addressing TB.
 
“I think the Holy Grail remains a vaccine,” Small said. “We do need a vaccine to finish the job. The great thing is that we’ve completed a phase three trial. We’ve shown that we can get definitive answers and unfortunately that trial was ineffective. But I think that the vaccine pipeline is now something which we know we can test. The good news is, in the last fifteen years there have been massive improvements in understanding immunology.”
 
As the world awaits a vaccine, research continues on new drugs that could be effective against multidrug-resistant and extensively drug-resistant types of TB.
 
Small explained, “These are agents that attack bugs in ways that they’ve never seen before so that the so-called multi-drug resistant is essentially no different than susceptible TB. Because these are new agents, they work new ways. And there are a number of promising ones in the pipeline. Taking some of those and putting those together would mean that you have a new regimen which treats everyone, drug-susceptible or drug-resistant.”
 
Drug-resistant strains of TB develop through the improper use of medication. If the drugs are taken incorrectly—such as missing doses—they become ineffective because the bacterium develops resistance.
 
Multidrug-resistant TB is on the rise, particularly in children. But finding the children who need treatment is not easy.
 
“It’s actually very difficult to diagnose TB in children because we generally think of TB as pneumonia,” Small said. “And we get pneumonia samples by having people cough and spit. And you can’t get five year olds and below to cough and spit. Because we can’t diagnose it, the world has tended to assume it doesn’t exist.  And because they assume it doesn’t exist, then they don’t feel the need to invest in diagnosing it. When you can diagnose TB with a blood sample, it’ll be a lot easier to diagnose TB in kids.”
 
Treating the millions of children and adults infected with TB may seem daunting. However, the fact that the TB mortality rate has decreased 41% since 1990 gives hope for future progress and elimination of the disease.

You May Like

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid