Swiss TPH Symposium on Tuberculosis: A Call to Action

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Eva Herzog, Member of the Swiss Council of States discussing with Jürg Utzinger,
Eva Herzog, Member of the Swiss Council of States discussing with Jürg Utzinger, Director of Swiss TPH, Sebastien Gagneux, Head of the Department of Medical Parasitology and Infection Biology and Christian Auer, Public Health Specialist (from left to right). Photo: Joachim Pelikan / Swiss TPH
More than 10 million people fall sick with tuberculosis (TB) every year. The disease remains one of the world’s biggest killers with 1.6 million annual deaths. In recent years, efforts and funding to fight TB have been overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) is currently holding a 2-day symposium in Allschwil, Switzerland in order to share the latest findings in TB research, raise public awareness and drive policy change. Scientists, experts and decision-makers are discussing findings and ideas to spark the global efforts to eliminate TB as a public health problem by 2030.

In 2021, an estimated 1.6 million people died of tuberculosis (TB), making it the world’s second deadliest infectious killer, right after COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated the public health burden of TB by disrupting TB prevention and treatment services in many countries. In addition, multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) is challenging to diagnose and requires complex treatment regimens with less successful outcomes. New and better diagnostics, drugs and vaccines are urgently needed to end the TB pandemic. Funding for TB, however, has declined since 2020 and is far from the annually required USD 19.6 billion for TB diagnosis, treatment and prevention and the annually required USD 5 billion for research and development.

Symposium on TB research and policy

To reawaken the public awareness and spark global efforts to fight TB, Swiss TPH is organising a 2-day symposium: -The Tuberculosis Pandemic: A Call to Action - Science Application and Politics-. The symposium is taking place on 21-22 March 2023, just ahead of World TB Day on 24 March. Over 400 national and international experts, researchers and policy-makers have come together physically and virtually at Swiss TPH to present the latest scientific evidence around TB, address health systems challenges and drive policy change.

After the opening remarks from Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership, Matteo Zignol, Director a.i. at the Global TB Programme of the World Health Organization (WHO), gave an update on the status of TB around the world. A unique insight into the topic was provided by Rhea Lobo, TB survivor and Board Member of the Stop TB Partnership.

Funds urgently needed to fight TB

Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund, stated: -TB is the poor people’s pandemic and thus gets a tiny fraction of the resources that are devoted to diseases that appear more threatening to the rich, the elite in the world. We must challenge this inequity.- Sebastien Gagneux, Head of the Department of Medical Parasitology and Infection Biology at Swiss TPH, emphasised: -The joint global efforts and the enormous amounts of funding made available during the COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated what can be achieved with adequate political will. In the case of TB, we know what needs to be done, but the funds are missing.-

The morning session also included several perspectives from parliamentarians from the UK, Germany and Switzerland as well as WHO and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease. Eva Herzog, Member of the Swiss Council of States and President of the Swiss TPH Board of Governors said: -Wealthy countries including Switzerland must meet the UN target of spending 0.7% of their gross national income on official development assistance to support the fight against diseases of poverty such as TB.-

In the following one and a half days, researchers and experts from Swiss TPH and around the world are elaborating on their work, ranging from basic research in the laboratory and clinical trials to interventions in healthcare systems.

About tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB is spread from person to person through the air. Symptoms of the disease include coughing, chest pain, weight loss, fever and night sweats. People who are infected with HIV are much more likely to develop TB. TB is curable but diagnosing the disease is challenging and the treatment requires antibiotic cocktails to be taken on a daily basis during many months.

Swiss TPH-s contribution to the fight against TB

Swiss TPH is committed to alleviate TB-related suffering, working on five continents, from basic research to health systems strengthening. These activities include the investigation of the host-pathogen interaction, of the evolution of antibiotic resistance and of the host immune responses to infection and evaluations of TB initiatives and programmes. Swiss TPH also conducts clinical trials of new TB diagnostics, drugs and vaccines in collaboration with our long-term partners at the Ifakara Health Institute (IHI) in Tanzania and the National Centre for Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases in the country of Georgia.