The Rt Hon The Lord Herbert of South Downs CBE PC
Chair of the Global TB Caucus and Global Equality Caucus
Tuberculosis (TB) is the world’s deadliest infectious disease, accounting for 1.4 million deaths globally in 2019. It is also the leading cause of death among those with HIV/AIDS.
Nick Herbert (Lord Herbert of South Downs), Chair of the Global TB Caucus and Global Equality Caucus discusses the impact of COVID-19, the TB and HIV pandemics and the need to invest in developing better tools to combat TB.
What has the impact of COVID-19 been on people and communities already suffering from TB and HIV?
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals call for ending the TB and HIV/AIDS pandemics by 2030. In spite of promising new advances, we were behind pace for these targets. COVID-19 has knocked us further off track. A massive diversion of political attention and resources at the global, national, and operational levels has had serious impacts on programs to treat TB, HIV/AIDS, and other deadly diseases.
What is the role of research and development (R&D) in TB control? Why has the field been historically stagnant?
TB is largely a disease of the poor. This means there are insufficient commercial incentives for companies to develop new tools for TB, such as a better vaccine, improved drugs and diagnostics. But these tools are essential; epidemics can’t be overcome without them.
As we’ve seen from COVID-19, overcoming pandemics requires science, but also commitment of resources and political leadership.
If we can’t count on private industry alone to drive TB research, where will investment and innovation come from?
Everybody has a part to play. In a 2018 United Nations High Level meeting, countries agreed to increase funding for TB R&D to $2bn USD per year. Very few countries have met their target investment levels – the UK is one of the that few did. Investment in TB R&D has to be increased from all countries, not just the wealthiest ones.
Developing new tools has to be a partnership between the public and private sectors. Product Development Partnerships like the TB Alliance and its recent six month regimen for highly drug-resistant TB are one example and will undoubtedly be key.
What message does the Global TB Caucus have to world leaders about the urgency of investing in TB?
We formed the Global TB Caucus to drive TB further up the political agenda. As we’ve seen from COVID-19, overcoming pandemics requires science, but also commitment of resources and political leadership. We call on parliamentarians to keep global health security atop your agendas, because deadly pandemics like TB and HIV/AIDS will persist even after COVID-19.