UNITAID, a global health initiative, is taking the old adage “prevention is better than cure” to heart. To that end, it has just launched a new multi-million dollar initiative to finance new treatments that can prevent the onset of full-blown tuberculosis in hundreds of millions of people globally living with latent TB.
Executive Director Lelio Marmora told VOA his organization is prepared to spend between $40 and $80 million on innovative proposals that could provide simpler, shorter and cheaper treatments for people who are at high risk of developing tuberculosis.
“What we aspire [to] is to have a large menu of projects to see how these projects would work in southern Africa and in francophone West Africa, the Sahel region, probably in Asia, in Latin America. It depends,” Marmora said.
Tuberculosis is a highly infectious airborne disease that kills some 1.5 million people every year. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates about one-third of the world’s population has latent tuberculosis; that is, they are carriers of the disease, but not yet infectious.
About 15 percent of these asymptomatic people are expected to develop active tuberculosis. The two groups most at risk, says WHO, are children under age five and people living with HIV.
Big step forward
The treatment for TB is lengthy. It requires patients to take pills every day for between six and 36 months. The director of WHO’s Global TB Program, Mario Raviglione, says UNITAID’s decision to invest in preventive treatment marks a big step forward in efforts to end TB by 2030.
“I think it would be a fundamental game changer because it is the first time we see a real move at this level of financing - using a financial mechanism such as this one to really move forward… This will have a huge impact in preventing the onset of tuberculosis for millions of people as well as averting deaths because once you prevent, you do not have the disease and you do not have the death, of course,” he said.
Raviglione added he hopes UNITAID’s financing will drive the pharmaceutical industry to develop better, cheaper, and shorter regimes for the prevention of tuberculosis.