The World Health Organization says every year, between two and three million people die of tuberculosis. The global crisis has caught the attention of governments and organizations worldwide. The National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, near Washington, DC, plays a leading role in efforts to control the spread of TB.
The director of the institute, Dr. Anthony Fauci, talked about the latest efforts with VOA English to Africa reporter Jackson Mvunganyi. Dr. Fauci has led the institute for over 20 years and says it continues to support international tuberculosis research and prevention efforts. It also helps devise strategies to enhance local research and encourage international partnerships. Outside of NIAID, Dr. Fauci has made many contributions to basic and clinical research on the pathogenesis and treatment of immune-mediated and infectious diseases.
He says he believes health systems around the world were not quick to respond to the challenges posed by tuberculosis. "In developed countries, there was a feeling that they had completely fought off the disease," he says, "and in developing countries they lacked the capacity to deal with TB."
But he says the AIDS pandemic forced countries to recognize the growing challenges of the disease because people with HIV are susceptible to TB.
The emergence of drug-resistant strains have increased the need for new TB drugs. NIAID supports research into the mechanisms of drug resistance and is working to identify new anti-TB drugs, including vaccines.
Dr. Fauci explains that each year thousands of people move from a status of latent to full-blown tuberculosis, where they require treatment. One third of the world's population is infected, but many do not yet show signs of illness. Fauchi says most of these people are in the low to middle income countries, where AIDS is the greatest disease burden.
NIAID provides facilities and resources for screening potential TB drugs, including a vaccine, in animals. He says the rate of TB is growing in countries like South Africa, which has witnessed outbreaks of TB in healthcare settings among caregivers, and in prisons, where there is a high prevalence of HIV infection among the inmates.
One of the biggest challenges in responding to TB is diagnosing it. NIAID supports the development of new and improved tools to more accurately diagnose the disease early. It alsoIn Uganda and South Africa, the institute encourages researchers to develop tools that allow clinicians to rapidly assess how people respond to therapy and to assist in conducting drug and vaccine clinical trials.