By Asmau Ahmad
A new report has shown that while funding for tuberculosis (TB) research and development surpassed $1 billion (about Sh122 billion) in 2021, it still falls short of what is needed to end the disease.
The funding marks the first increase in three years after stagnating at just over $900,000 from 2018 to 2020.
However, investments in paediatric TB research fell from $91 million in 2020 to $75 million in 2021.
Paediatric TB research investments also fell from 10 per cent to 8 per cent of overall research spending.
The report by Treatment Action Group (TAG), titled Tuberculosis Research Funding Trends, 2005–2021, reveals that despite reaching the $ billion mark, more funding is needed to achieve the United Nations sustainable development goal of ending TB as a pandemic by 2030.
“We’re proud that two decades of activism and scientific advances have led to this unprecedented level of funding for TB research, but we remain disappointed at the pandemic inequity that holds back progress on TB diagnosis, prevention and treatment.
This number must grow to $5 billion dollars per year,” said TAG Executive Director Mark Harrington.
The increase in funding has been attributed to investment in operational research and diagnostics development, with 70 per cent of it coming from public entities.
But G7 countries were faulted for failing to meet their TB research spending targets.
The United States, however, contributed the most funds. The report further shows that philanthropic spending reached $140 million worldwide, with 81 per cent coming from the Gates Foundation.
Private sector funding lagged at $102 million, well below its peak of $145 million a decade ago.
The report has raised concern about the low spending in TB vaccines, which comprised of only 12 per cent. “Without new vaccines against TB, the epidemic will not be stopped.
Developing and delivering new TB vaccines in the next decade is within grasp—on the precondition that adequate financing for research is made available without delay,” says the report.
Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership, said: “We should put fundraising efforts in motion and identify smart financing approaches to advance research, develop point-of-care diagnosis, deliver shorter treatments and get a new TB vaccine by the end of 2025,” she said.
In Kenya, TB is the fifth leading cause of death, and remains a national public health concern.
The health ministry notes that globally, 104 million people are infected with TB and nearly 1.5 million die each year. In 2019, Kenya reported and treated 86,504 cases of TB, with 10 per cent of them being children.
While commenting on the report, Stephen Anguva Shikoli, the National Coordinator of the Kenya Network of TB Champions and Director of Pamoja TB Group, said the billions needed to mount a robust global TB response exceed what’s been invested to date, but they’re a little more compared to investments made in managing Covid-19 in the past three years.
“TB is an airborne disease. That means if I’m at risk, you’re at risk. If we have new innovations, if we have new tools, if we have a new vaccine, we will be able to reduce delays in diagnosis and TB deaths around the world,” he said.
“If there is an area [of TB] that is very weak, it is funding of research. We need to wake up and ensure that we are allocating resources to research and development. … if we do things the same way and expect different results, then we are not going to achieve the goal of ending TB by 2030,” he added.