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UN wins support to end TB after US dispute

September 15, 2018

Nations around the world have said they're ready to commit billions to eradicate tuberculosis. But the deal only came about after countries denied US-proposed changes to protect pharmaceutical companies.

A tuberculosis patient in India
Image: picture-alliance/epa/R. Pal Singh

UN member states on Friday agreed to bolster plans to eradicate tuberculosis as the infectious disease makes a global comeback.

In preparation for the first-ever tuberculosis summit on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, UN member states signaled progress on a joint declaration after settling a dispute with the United States over access to generic drugs.

South Africa rejected attempts by the US to scrap parts of the draft agreement, including an article that emphasized the "importance of delinking the cost of investment in research and development from the price and volume of sales" to promote "affordable access" to life-saving drugs. EU negotiators had reportedly contested the language as well.

The changes pushed for by the United States could hinder access to affordable life-saving medication by keeping the drugs' prices beyond the budgets of poorer countries.

'Scale up' affordable treatment

The main goal of the agreement is to consolidate support to end the tuberculosis epidemic by 2030. The declaration is expected to include a commitment of $13 billion (€11.2 billion) annually to end the spread of the infectious disease, with an additional $2 billion to fund research for that goal.

Doctors without Borders (MSF) policy adviser Sharonann Lynch said that while the final declaration marked an improvement from previous iterations, it still required world leaders to take action and implement the plan.

"Heads of state have to now show up at the UN high-level meeting on TB and exercise their rights to protect public health over drug company profits and scale up effective and affordable, generic versions of expensive patented drug-resistant TB medicines," Lynch said.

Read more: In Germany, disease prevention for refugees varies from state to state

A tuberculosis patient in Kenya receives medicines from Doctors without Borders
Tuberculosis has witnessed a resurgence, partly due to lack of access to life-saving medicinesImage: picture-alliance/epa/D. Irungu

Global rise in TB

The World Health Organization — the UN's public health agency — last year announced that tuberculosis had surpassed HIV/AIDS as the top infectious killer in the world. In 2016, tuberculosis killed 1.7 million people.

China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan and India, which make up roughly a quarter of all global cases, comprise the hardest-hit countries.

"Without treatment, tuberculosis can be fatal," the US-based non-profit Mayo Clinic says. "Another reason tuberculosis remains a major killer is the increase in drug-resistant strains of the bacterium."

Drug-resistant TB on the rise

ls/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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