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).


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 Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
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.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs