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WHO to establish TB vaccine council

The World Health Organization (WHO) is set to establish a Tuberculosis (TB) Vaccine Council.

WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, revealed that in 2021, approximately 10.6 million people fell ill from TB and 1.6 million people died of the disease globally.

Dr Adhanom expressed optimism that the TB Vaccine Accelerator Council, will successfully curb the adverse impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the disease.

“No new TB vaccine has been licensed in 100 years. The prospects for noble effective TB vaccines have improved recently with at least 16 vaccine candidates proving the worth of the vaccine,” he explained.

The Director General made the revelation at the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday 18th 2023, during a virtual session with panelists.

He noted that for countries to boldly end TB by 2030, the Council will have to facilitate the licensing and use of effective novel TB vaccines.

This way, the Council will accelerate high-level alignment between funders, global agencies, governments and end users in identifying and overcoming barriers to TB vaccine development.

“One of the most important lessons learnt from the response to COVID-19 pandemic is that innovative health interventions can be delivered fast if they are prioritized politically and financed adequately,” said Dr Tedros.

He observed that while TB and Covid-19 pose diverse challenges, the ingredients that accelerate science, research and innovation are the same, and so they need urgent, up-front public investment; support from philanthropy; engagement of the private sector and communities.

Pointedly, WHO believes that the TB field will immensely benefit from similar high-level coordination with the new Council and the member countries.

The world body is concerned that the epidemic is showing no sign of slowing down despite countries making bold commitments to end TB by 2030 as anticipated in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the WHO End TB Strategy and the 2018 political declaration on the fight against the disease.

Currently, Bacillus Calmette – Guerin Vaccine (BCG) so far remains the only licensed TB vaccine and provides moderate efficacy in preventing severe forms of the disease in infants and young children, the press statement released to the media stated

However, the document points out that BCG does not adequately protect adolescents and adults who account for close to 90 per cent of TB transmissions globally.

A study recently commissioned by WHO titled: ‘An Investment Case for New Tuberculosis Vaccines,’ estimated that over 25 years, a vaccine that is 50 per cent  effective in preventing disease among adolescents and adults could avert up to 76 million new TB cases.

It further points out that it would also avert up to 8.5 million deaths, enable 42 million causes of antibiotic treatment and translate to Sh.8.6 billion (US$ 6.5 billion) in costs faced by TB affected households, especially among the poorest and most vulnerable.

Similarly, the study reports that a vaccine which is 75 per cent effective could avert up to 110 million new TB cases and 12.3 million deaths.

It suggests that every Sh.124 (US$ 1) invested in a 50 per cent effective vaccine could in return economically generate Sh. 869 (US$ 7) in terms of averted health costs and increased productivity.

Subsequently, WHO hopes that later this year, Heads of State and Governments will meet for a United Nations High-Level Meeting II on TB for in-depth review progress against commitments made in the 2018 political declaration.

Significantly, this development presents a viable opportunity to correct setbacks in the TB response which includes urgent development and delivery of new TB vaccines.

By Rolex Omondi/Joseph Ouma

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