The UK government has pledged £7.5million for the development of three new treatments for tuberculosis, the world's biggest infectious disease killer.
International development secretary Penny Mordaunt made the announcement after the high level meeting on TB, held during the United Nations general assembly and aimed at ramping up efforts to eradicate the disease.
This is the first time world leaders have met to discuss TB, which in 2017 affected 10 million people around the world and claimed the lives of 1.6 million.
The £7.5m will go to the non-profit TB Alliance to develop three shorter TB treatments. Currently, patients with the least complicated form of the disease have to take a cocktail of toxic drugs, whose side effects can include deafness, liver damage and mental health problems, over the course of six months.
Patients with the more complicated drug-resistant strains of the disease face a regimen of up to two years, beginning with daily painful injections.
Ms Mordaunt said: “UK aid will help develop three new TB drugs, which offer quicker-acting treatments for the millions of people affected by drug-resistant TB each year. The work of our expert scientists is bolstering our efforts to ensure we can tackle these diseases that do not respect borders. It is a win for the UK and a win for the developing world.”
The announcement comes hot on the heels of two significant scientific breakthroughs in the eradication of the disease: promising results from a trial of a new vaccine and a better understanding of TB's genetic code which could lead to improved diagnosis and tailored treatments.
At the UN meeting world leaders agreed to speed up efforts to fight the disease, including increasing access to testing and providing preventive treatment to people in countries where the disease is rife. They also promised to provide preventive treatment for people with HIV.
However, campaigners have expressed dismay that only a small number of leaders came to the meeting, questioning their commitment to ending this global killer.
Sharonann Lynch, HIV and TB adviser for Médecins Sans Frontières, said fewer than 30 world leaders - including from affected and donor countries - came to the meeting.
She added: “[Leaders have to] truly commit to significantly increasing investments and mobilizing the research community to develop new medical tools to more effectively tackle the world’s deadliest infectious disease—for the ten million people who develop TB each year still desperately waiting for a fast, safe, and simple cure.”
Paul Jensen, director of strategy and policy at the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, said it was disappointing that no European heads of state attended the meeting.
“TB will not be eliminated unless we have better diagnostics, better drugs and an effective vaccine. That conversation must include more high-level involvement from the European Union and from more of the G20 countries. TB is at a crossroads – we cannot tolerate a status quo where investments in TB care from the world’s wealthier countries are low and on the decline,” he said.
Speaking before the meeting Catherine Connor, senior director, public policy and advocacy at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation, said that she hoped the meeting would kickstart research into new drugs for treating the one million children who contracted the disease last year.
“The political declaration is an important first step in acknowledging that we cannot treat children with the same tools as adults. But any commitments that are made at the meeting have to be followed up,” she said.
She said children had different symptoms from adults and need different doses of drugs.
Bedaquiline - the first new class of TB drug in many years - came out in 2012 but still has not been licensed for children. She said that there needed to be new formulations of drugs for children.
She added: "This meeting is just one day and what's important is how to translate that day into action. We need to hold governments to account."
Source: The Telegraph