Earlier this month TBEC hosted a series of 3 webinars on the impacts of COVID-19 on TB research and development which were a rounding success! We were also delighted to welcome several fantastic speakers from IAVI, TAG, FIND, MSF, TB Alliance and SMIT!

The first in our series of webinars focused on the TB vaccine pipeline, and the broad benefits of TB vaccine research in the time of COVID-19. TBEC were pleased to be joined by Ben Coates, Europe Advocacy Manager at IAVI, and Mike Frick TB Project Co-Director at Treatment Action Group to speak at this event.

Our second webinar looked at TB diagnostics, and policy reform in light of lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. During this session Dr. Morten Ruhwald, Head of TB at FIND, and Stijn Deborggraeve, Infectious Diseases Diagnostics Advisor at the MSF Access Campaign, presented on the TB diagnostics pipeline and impact of COVID-19. Additionally, TBEC Board Member Sharonann Lynch who is also the Senior HIV and TB Policy Advisor at the MSF Access Campaign spoke about how profit-driven models have failed in tackling public health emergencies.

Our final webinar focused on TB drug development and COVID-10 and were joined by Stephanie Seidel, Senior Manager of Community Engagement at TB Alliance. We also welcomed Board Member Oxana Rucsineanu from the Moldova National Association of TB (SMIT) to discuss the importance of community engagement in TB research and development.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the research and development done in the field of TB prevention, diagnostics and treatment measures has been disrupted, and focus has been shifted away from TB care. TB vaccine funding from 2019 equates to less than 1/10th of that invested in COVID-19 vaccines by the US Government alone. Furthermore, lockdowns and the high burden placed on national healthcare systems has prevented patients from accessing TB diagnostic and treatment services, and it is expected that this will contribute to a significant rise in TB cases worldwide, setting us back at least 5 – 8 years, and reducing the chances of achieving the SDG, EndTB and UN HLM targets. Furthermore, ongoing clinical trials of TB drug regimens have been disrupted, with many patients being unable to access care facilities, or lost to follow-up.

Given the similarities between TB and COVID-19 in symptoms and transmission there is considerable overlap. Notably, work previously done on TB vaccine development has had significant benefits for the rush to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, including clinical trials using BCG-based vaccines and weakened or fragmented forms of M. tuberculosis. These similarities may also provide an opportunity for collaboration, including through testing integration and bi-direction diagnostics tests for both TB and COVID-19.

Despite the challenges posed by the Coronavirus pandemic to ending TB, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of investing in health and health systems strengthening, placing health higher on the political agenda. The threat posed by COVID-19 to TB efforts also draws attention to the importance of civil society engagement in TB research. Now more than ever we need to ensure people-centred approaches to TB care, improved accessibility of TB services and promote the voices of the TB community and key affected populations. We can use lessons learnt from the pandemic response to promote policy reform, and advocate for transparency. Infectious disease cannot be contained within national borders and COVID-19 has shown that tackling cross-border global health threats requires international collaboration and human rights-based approaches.

We are very grateful to our speakers for their valuable contributions to our webinars and hope those who attended found them valuable and informative. We hope members are able to use knowledge gained through these webinars to better inform their advocacy efforts and help contribute to ending TB by 2035.

As Oxana Rucsineanu succinctly put it “Let’s not be pessimistic, and be opportunistic”.

Recordings of the webinars are available on TBEC’s Youtube Channel and presentations are also available here.

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