At a global meeting in China, of health ministers from 27 countries affected by the rise of multi-drug resistant (MDR) TB, Bill Gates and the Chinese Minister of Health Chen Zhu announced an innovative partnership to help fight a serious tuberculosis epidemic in China. The 5 year initiative will be led by the Chinese Ministry of Health and funded by a grant of $33million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Bill Gates, co- chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said that the rise of drug-resistant TB worldwide has created a new urgency to combat the disease, while scientific innovation is leading to new technologies. He explained in his speech, the foundation’s choice of China for this partnership:
“China is taking the threat of TB very seriously, and we’re excited to support its efforts.” He added, “Because of its skill, its scale, its TB burden, its love of innovation and its political commitment to public health, China is a perfect laboratory for large-scale testing of new tools and delivery techniques to fight TB.”
“If China leads in the fight against TB – developing new approaches here in China and demonstrating them to the world – we can see a dramatic drop in the number of TB deaths in the next decade.”
According to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the goal of the partnership was “to improve detection and treatment of the estimated 1.5 million TB cases that occur each year in China, drawing on the latest innovations in TB control.”
The Chinese Minister of Health, Chen said that the new tuberculosis prevention and control program was a continuation of the successful cooperation between the Chinese Ministry of Health and the Gates Foundation that began on the issue of HIV/AIDS.
Minister Chen added, “It aims to establish an effective TB prevention model through the exploration of new diagnostic tools and methods. This will not only benefit TB prevention and control efforts both in China and throughout the world, but it also sets an excellent example of the partnership between government and private sectors that is widely promoted by the international community, and we hope it will accelerate the progress of reaching the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.”
Funding from the Gates Foundation will help China introduce new TB diagnostic tests, patient monitoring strategies, drug regimens and health delivery approaches that could significantly improve the effectiveness of TB diagnosis and treatment across the country.
The initiative will be implemented in 6 provinces in China. During the first two-and-a-half years, innovative tools and delivery approaches will be pilot-tested to determine their effectiveness and feasibility. Following the completion of the first two-and-a-half years of this partnership, China will determine how to progressively expand the innovations that have been proven to be effective into 20 cities, diagnosing and treating 50,000 TB patients each year.
The new technologies and innovative delivery methods to be piloted include:
– New diagnostic tests that can dramatically improve detection of TB
– Drug resistance tests that can identify MDR-TB in a matter of hours, as opposed to the six or more weeks that a standard test currently requires.
– New strategies to help TB patients take their medicines regularly for the entire 6-8 months of treatment, such as cell phone text messaging and medicine kits with built-in reminder alarms
– Fixed-dose drug combinations that reduce the number of pills a patient has to take each day by 70%
– A new model of collaboration between hospitals and the public health system to provide high-quality and affordable TB diagnosis and treatment.
–New incentives and approaches for health care workers to provide effective follow-up of TB patients during treatment
– New approaches to ensure high-quality fixed-dose combination and second line TB drugs are produced
Worldwide, more than 9 million people develop TB every year; nearly 2 million people die from it; and half a million patients a year are developing TB that is resistant to drugs that have been effective for 50 years. MDR TB is a form of the disease that is resistant to the two best TB drugs being used today and is especially difficult and costly to treat. According to the WHO, China has more than 20 percent of the world’s drug-resistant cases, the second-highest rate in the world.
WHO estimates that China has 15 percent of the world’s TB cases, 1.3 million new cases a year, and more than 200,000 deaths annually