Image: Burnet Health Security Deputy Program Director Dr Suman Majumdar
Burnet Health Security Deputy Program Director and co-head of the TB Elimination and Implementation Science Working Group, Dr Suman Majumdar, is urging Health Ministers meeting in Moscow this week to prioritise their support for operational research as a central component of TB programs globally.
The Health Ministers meeting is the first World Health Organization (WHO) Global Ministerial Conference on Ending TB in the Sustainable Development Era.
It is bringing together Health Ministers, NGOs, researchers and philanthropic foundations from 40 countries with the highest TB burden to address gaps in access to care in order to reach targets set by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end TB.
One of those gaps, Dr Majumdar argues, is operational research, which he says is underutilised, underfunded, and for too long regarded as a non-essential activity.
“We need a revolution in TB R&D championed by high-burden countries that stand to benefit most from implementing new tools and strategies and, in particular, benefit from the efficiency gains provided by operational research,” Dr Majumdar said.
“While we can detect a renewed energy, focus and momentum behind TB R&D over the past five years, this pales in comparison to the needs and also to the R&D environments in HIV and malaria.”
“The status quo cannot continue if we are to achieve the SDG goal of ending the global TB epidemic and respond to the unmitigated threat of drug-resistant TB. Intensifying and invigorating R&D is vital to the TB response.”
Dr Majumdar’s comments were contained in a report on TB research funding by independent policy and research body, the Treatment Action Group (TAG), which is advocating for a global boost in funding of up to $9 billion for TB diagnostic, drug and vaccine R&D over the next five years.
Burnet Senior Principal Research Fellow and co-head of the TB Elimination and Implementation Science Working Group, Professor Steve Graham, also contributed to the TAG report to highlight the need to include children in research for new TB drugs and diagnostics.
According to TAG, an estimated one million children develop TB each year, but 62 percent are never diagnosed or reported. TB is now recognised as a leading cause of childhood death, killing an estimated 210,000 children aged under-five each year.
“Funding for pediatric research represents only three percent of total TB research funding – which is already inadequate – while children represent around 10 percent of the TB caseload globally,” Professor Graham said.
“There has been a increase in the quantity and quality of TB research in children, but this is still limited to a few research groups and populations.
“As a result, this research is not always relevant to resource-limited settings.
“There is a huge need for implementation research in different settings, and children should be included early in research for new drugs and diagnostics.”
A Ministerial Declaration will be signed at the conclusion of the Global Ministerial Conference to accelerate action to end TB and inform the UN General Assembly High Level meeting on TB in 2018.