26 September 2018 | Statement

At UNGA, Unitaid highlights urgent need to speed up innovation to end TB

New York – As heads of state and leaders unveiled ambitious plans to fight tuberculosis at the first-ever United Nations High-Level Meeting on the disease, Unitaid has highlighted the special role it is playing to speed introduction of health innovations that are essential to end the disease.

“The road that leads from the laboratory to the final point of delivery of a health product in a clinic or village pharmacy is long and arduous,” said Unitaid Executive Director Lelio Marmora at a panel on TB on Wednesday afternoon. “It is vital to ensure we achieve the ultimate objective of our work of bringing an innovation to scale so it reaches the maximum number of people at the best possible price.”

Marmora said that one of the challenges in introducing innovative health solutions in low-income countries has often been the lack of a market big enough to attract pharmaceutical manufacturers. “This is precisely when well-targeted catalytic investments are called for.”

More than 80 countries are today using a child-friendly fixed-dose combination to treat TB, the result of a Unitaid partnership with the TB Alliance. Close to 700,000 children will get the treatment they need. “We now have a fixed dose combination for children that is used all over the world,” he said.

In an article published earlier today, Marmora and Partners In Health (PIH) co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer pointed out that new medications for multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) are reaching only a tiny fraction of the people who need them, due in part to the exceptionally high cost of treatment. As a result, the number of new TB cases is falling very slowly—by less than 2 percent each year.

Marmora and Farmer said the UNGA’s decision to host the high-level meeting on TB is a sign that the tide could finally be turning. Funded by Unitaid, Partners In Health leads the endTB project, which is piloting the first new TB drugs in more than 40 years, bedaquiline and delamanid. EndTB’s shorter, less-toxic treatment regimens for MDR-TB, which are simpler to administer, have the potential to bring about major public health gains.

Unitaid’s approach makes it possible to introduce very expensive treatments at prices that are affordable in low-income countries. The organization’s experience with diverse partners has shown that medicines and other tools that may have cost large sums to develop can be made available on a very wide scale to those most in need.

Responding to a global TB crisis and the growing menace of drug-resistant forms of the disease, Unitaid expanded its funding for innovative TB projects from US$ 127 million in 2016 to US$ 215 million in 2018. Unitaid’s TB funding is on track to hit US$ 300 million in 2020.

Further investments are in development: new Unitaid projects will fight TB and its drug-resistant strains through innovative diagnostics, wider use of the best new drugs for adults and children, and new technologies to support people in taking their medicines.

In 2017, 10 million people fell ill with TB, according to the World Health Organization, and 1.6 million died from the disease. More than 95 percent of TB deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. TB is a leading killer of HIV-positive people. In 2016, 40 percent of HIV deaths were caused by TB.

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