24 May 2016 | Press releases

Unitaid launches global initiative to prevent tuberculosis

Unitaid announced a new initiative to support global efforts to end tuberculosis by 2035 by seeking to bring preventive treatments to people most likely to develop the disease.

Unitaid is calling for innovative proposals to make new, shorter preventive treatment regimens more easily available to those who could benefit most. The proposals that show most promise will be recommended for funding.

Unitaid’s efforts could reduce the number of cases in countries most affected by tuberculosis, which claims 1.5 million lives every year.

An estimated one-third of the world’s total population has latent tuberculosis, a non-infectious and asymptomatic stage of the disease. Of these, about 15 percent develop active tuberculosis during their lifetime.  Children under the age of five and people living with HIV are at much higher risk of developing active tuberculosis – and are more likely to die from it.

People living with HIV, for example, are up to 37 times more likely to develop active tuberculosis following initial infection with the disease. One in every three HIV deaths occurs due to tuberculosis.

“Prevention of tuberculosis offers a golden opportunity to accelerate progress in ending tuberculosis,” said Philippe Douste-Blazy, Chair, Unitaid. “Emerging tools may make it possible for the first time to scale up preventive therapy in countries with high burdens of tuberculosis.”

“Latent tuberculosis is very widespread in Korea and in response my country introduced a program of aggressive treatment in 2011,” said Kwon Jun-Wook, Director General, Public Health Policy Senior Deputy Director, Ministry of Health and Welfare, Republic of Korea. “We therefore welcome Unitaid’s initiative to bring preventive therapy to those who are greatest risk of developing active tuberculosis in resource-limited settings.”

Current treatment requires patients to take pills daily for between 6 and 36 months. Even though this treatment can reduce the risk of tuberculosis dramatically, very few people living with HIV currently have access to it.  The long duration and sometimes severe side effects can make adherence difficult. Shorter treatment regimens that are currently under development can reduce treatment to 12 weeks.

“Our goal is to create much-needed market demand by addressing specific challenges, including availability and affordability of the shorter treatment regimens,” said Lelio Marmora, Executive Director, Unitaid.

“Unitaid’s decision to invest in preventive treatment for TB marks a big step forward in our efforts to end TB,” said Dr Mario Raviglione, Director of the World Health Organization’s Global TB Programme. “Unitaid’s funding will drive the development of much-needed innovative tools for TB prevention. This could save millions of lives.”

Unitaid’s investment in tuberculosis prevention is an important part of the global response, and complements existing efforts to diagnose and treat tuberculosis.

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