Leveraging Science Research in TB Treatment
Tuberculosis (Tb) is the leading cause of death from a single infectious agent and remains a global health emergency.
In 2018 alone, there were 1.5 million deaths and 10 million new cases globally, according to the World Health Organization.
In Malawi, an estimated population of 27, 000 Tb cases was recorded in 2020 with 2, 600 deaths, making it the country’s fifth cause of deaths among communicable, maternal, neonatal and nutritional diseases.
Implementation of research on best strategies for early diagnosis, treatment and prevention of TB, optimized and tailored to various socioeconomic contexts and responsive to local conditions is believed to be helpful in accelerating the decline in TB incidence rates globally.
This is particularly essential in resource-limited settings where much remains to be done to achieve universal coverage for TB care.
Implementation research on effective approaches that can mobilize sustained community engagement, address social determinants of TB and strengthen political commitment remains an important area to End the disease.
Malawi seems to be making headway in advancing the third pillar of the End TB Strategy which strives to intensify research and innovation.
Hussein Twabi, an epidemiologist at the Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHeS), says research on new drug that can shorten the duration of TB treatment is vital in TB fight.
“There have been several assessments with that regard from research point of view. We used to have various phases of studies that we do. There are earlier phases that are zero or pre-chemical phases where we do the tests in animals and there are chemical phases which include phase one up to four,” he said.
Twabi says a research is currently underway at the University to asses if the drug can shorten treatment period from six months to four.
“So far, there are numerous results to phase two which is in very slow numbers of population but this has shown some promising results in regards to shortening treatment. This could be using different drugs or a different combination than the current one,” said Twabi.
Health rights activist, George Jobe, says this is a welcome development.
“The drugs are made by scientists. In this case, they are using science. What we are expecting is that the effectiveness of the same will be improved from what it is at the moment. This is why we think that it is a good development,” says Jobe.
Programmes Manager of the National TB and Leprosy Elimination Programme, Dr James Mpunga, says the long treatment period is a recipe for drug default.
Dr. Mpunga says there has been an outcry that six months that patients take for the treatment is too long and defaulters in some instances develop the multi-drug resistant Tb.
He has, therefore, thrown government’s support towards the research which he says will improve patients’ outcome.
“This is a very welcome development for us in the Tb sector. For some time now, you might be aware that Tb treatment has been provided to patients for six months. For drug resistant Tb, patients have been taking treatment for 18 months up to 2 years.
“This contributes to treatment default which is not good for a patient. It is also not good for the country. As Malawi is joining the rest of the world in reflecting for better medicine, this is a very good news and as a ministry we will support it in any way possible,” he said.
The researchers use modern surveillance approaches to assess TB risk, disease trends in the population, and the impact of current interventions with strong collaboration with the Malawi Liverpool Wellcomme Programme’s Population Health Theme and other stakeholders.
TB research and innovation is considered one of essentials to achieve the global TB targets of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the World Health Organization End TB Strategy.