Members of the European Parliament hold a briefing to address the need for robust investments in TB
Bruxelles, January 29th
Globally in 2018 US$906 million was spent on TB research and development (R&D). This was the high-water mark of annual funding for TB research and development, and yet, we are still facing a $1.2 billion deficit for funding.
The European Commission, and EU member states are leaders in global health research and innovation, and it is important that this is recognised whilst also acknowledging that more must be done. With this in mind, on January 29th 2020, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) Martin Horwood (Renew Europe) and Frédérique Ries (Renew Europe) hosted a briefing in the European Parliament ‘New tools to fight the world’s oldest disease: the role of the European Union in fighting TB’.
The briefing aims were twofold. Firstly, to ensure that MEPs from the Development committee (DEVE), Research and Innovation Committee (ITRE) and the Environment Committee (ENVI) were informed about the current TB epidemic and the current state of affairs of TB research and development (TB R&D), as together these committees cover all the aspects of the TB response. And secondly, to underscore that the next few months are critically important in shaping the European’s Commission role in supporting TB Research and Development over the next few years due to the renewal of the Horizon Europe program and other factors, not least the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
To establish the current state of the TB epidemic and actions the European Commission are currently taking to address this, Prof Dr Bouke De Jong (Institute for Tropical Health Antwerp) talked about why research into TB is vital, using the example of TB patient Soumiya. Then Arjon Van Hengel from the Directorate General of Research and Innovation, and Guy Dargent from Consumers, Health, Agriculture and Food Executive Agency (CHEFEA) spoke about how their respective agencies are supporting efforts to achieve SDG 3.3. A particular highlight was when Dr Dargent identified TB Europe Coalition (TBEC) as an example of CHEFEA’s role in supporting TB programmes in the WHO Europe region.
Following this, Christina Birkemose, a TB Survivor from Denmark, spoke eloquently about her experience of discovering she had TB and her subsequent treatment. Christina ended her speech by noting that sharing her story is the privilege of the survivors only, calling for those in the room to remember those who had not when carrying out their advocacy. Scott Boule from the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria, who had the unenviable job of following Christina, then talked about the role of the Global Fund in tackling in the three diseases, and particularly its role in supporting high TB burden countries deliver treatment to those who need it.
Janika Hauser from Results UK drew attention to the lack of funding for research and development globally, reminding the participants that for every year without improved drugs or the existence of a vaccine, an additional 4.8 million people fall ill and an extra US 5.1 billion in treatment costs is needed, far outweighing the research funding deficit. Agustin Martin from Brussels based advocacy organisation DSW, concluded by explaining what steps MEPs can take to ensure that TB R&D remains a priority in the European Union, stressing the need to secure an ambitious successor programme to the EDCTP. Martin Horwood closed the briefing with a call for political unity in the face of TB.