House Committee on Health chair presides over Global TB Caucus meet, calls on political support for better tuberculosis response

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PHOTO COURTESY: HELEN TAN FB PAGE

Quezon Representative Angelina “Helen” Tan presided over the meeting of the Global TB Caucus on Wednesday, September 1, to discuss the future of tuberculosis response in Asia and beyond. It was attended by members of parliaments, civil society organizations (CSOs), and TB advocates from around the world.

Tan, a Member of the Global TB Caucus Executive Committee and Co-Chair of the Asia-Pacific TB Caucus, which both seek to provide strategic venue for members of parliaments to work together across political and geographical divides and promote bolder policies to stop tuberculosis, said that “it is imperative to have this discussion to share lessons-learned on the development of better, shorter, and less toxic TB treatments and the need to facilitate widespread access to new tools.”

Notable speakers from the TB community joined the event, which include Eloisa “Louie” Zepeda-Teng, President of TBPeople Philippines and a former architect, who shared her experience as a tuberculosis meningitis survivor; Dr. Pauline Howell, Senior Medical Officer and Investigator of Clinical HIV Research Unit (CHRU), Sizwe Tropical Disease Hospital. Johannesburg, who gave her perspective on TB as a healthcare provider; and Sandeep Juneja, Senior Vice President of Market Access. TB Alliance, who talked about expanding access and development of the next generation of TB therapies.

Dr. Anna Marie Celina Garfin, National Tuberculosis Program Manager of the Department of Health, Philippines, discussed faster-acting and affordable drug regimens to fight TB while Dr. Stephanie Williams, Australian Ambassador for Regional Health Security, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), shared the TB perspectives from the funders.

Rep. Tan, principal author of the landmark Republic Act 10767, otherwise known as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which is already recognized as one of the most comprehensive global laws on tuberculosis today, lamented the lack of funding and political support for the product development (R&D) are urgently needed to bring forth the technological advances required to end TB by 2030.

According to Tan, who also serves as Chairperson of the Committee on Health of the House of Representatives, the Philippines is one of the countries taking initiative to make available cutting edge, improve TB therapies through programs such as TB Alliances’ LIFT-TB or Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The LIFT-TB project supports the operations research for the 6-month, all-oral, three-drug BPaL regimen composed of Bedaquiline. Pretomanid and Linezolid in the Philippines, which show a success rate of 90 percent.

The combination of these three oral medications means that highly drug-resistant TB patients no longer have to undergo painful injections for months. Treatment with BPal only takes 6 months, as opposed to the 18 to 24 months that is currently recommended for patients with highly drug-resistant TB.

TB killed 1.4 million in 2019 and for many years held the dubious honor of the world’s deadliest infectious disease prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Philippines is the 4th country in the world with most number of TB cases and is among the World Health Organization’s list of high burden MDR-TB countries.

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