HYDERABAD – The World Health Organization (WHO) made a significant, forward-looking announcement at a global gathering of the 50th Union World Conference on Lung Health in Hyderabad. A leading expert on the subject of tuberculosis told BBC News that a new vaccine, currently in development appears to be “a real game-changer” in providing long-term protection against contracting the disease.
This is welcome news for South Asian countries and India, in particular.
More than 1.5 million people died from tuberculosis in 2018 alone. More than a third (555,000) of those deaths occurred in the South Asian countries of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Patients in India accounted for 400,000 of those deaths.
The WHO estimates that an additional 10 million people contracted TB during the same period, further emphasizing the need to bring the disease under control once and for all.
Tuberculosis can be contracted by individuals who inhale tiny droplets expired when an infected patient coughs or sneezes. This is why TB patients have historically been treated in quarantine or in hospitals devoted exclusively to the treatment of the disease. The disease can be cured, so current efforts are focused on prevention.
The common goal of those engaged at the Hyderabad meeting is to reduce the annual infections by 95 percent by 2035.
The only downside to the good news is that GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has been working on the vaccine for nearly two decades and that the medication is still in mid-phase development. In short, the drug will not likely be available until 2028.
This is particularly significant for India. According to the director of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases in Delhi, “We cannot eliminate TB globally unless we end it in India.”
Because India has the highest burden of TB cases in the world, the director added, “Let’s be honest . . . Progress is still too slow to meet the targets. We need to step up the pace of treatment and prevention.”
Pray that testing of the vaccine will continue to prove its efficacy so that its spread will be universally prevented.
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