Europe can lead fight to eradicate TB by 2035

In Europe we may think that the battle has been won against tuberculosis (TB), but millions of people are still living with the terrible consequences of this disease. A disease that continues to grow at the rate of 150 new cases, every single day. Much progress has been made in recent years to fight back against the disease, but none sufficient enough to say we have reached a tipping point.

As we mark World TB Day today, what role does the EU have in making the end of TB a reality by 2035?

The toll that TB exacts on people living in the world’s poorest countries remains shocking. More than two billion people around the world today are infected with TB. In 2013 alone, 1.3 million people died from TB, with women and young children amongst the most vulnerable; women with TB are four times more likely to die during childbirth. TB also affects fertility and increases the risk of maternal and infant mortality by almost 300% in pregnant women who are HIV positive. Eradicating TB will therefore have potentially huge and positive implications for women’s health.

Global Health Reseach & Development (R&D) – the next frontier in the fight against TB

How, then, can we make this breakthrough and reach the World Health Organisation’s target of defeating TB by 2035?

Significant progress has been made in the last two decades in reducing deaths from the disease, but if we are to build on this momentum we need to develop ground-breaking medical innovations. We need renewed political support and financial investment in new avenues of research and product development – not only plugging the resource and funding gaps that are there, but providing a supportive legislative and regulatory environment that encourages research on TB and other diseases. We need new vaccines, drug treatments and diagnostic tools targeted not only at TB but at HIV & AIDS, malaria and other neglected tropical diseases.

European Union & global health

The EU has been at the forefront of these efforts in recent years with the investment it has made in global health R&D beginning to bear fruit.

UK support for programmes like the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trails Partnership (EDCTP) is a good example of what can be achieved. UK researchers have worked with their counterparts across Europe and Africa on diverse projects such as improving the treatment of TB in people who are living with HIV, research into how to improve HIV treatment for children – and medical interventions from these projects are close to being launched on the market and into the hands of those that need them the most.

What is more, EU investment in global health R&D supports high-value jobs in medical research and is highly cost-effective. For every €1 invested by EU governments in global health R&D, €1.47 of additional investment came into Europe from abroad. What we need now is the EU to step up its commitment and secure its place as the global leader in R&D for diseases of poverty.

How partnerships can drive innovation

The EU can do this in several ways. The Commission can make sure it fulfils its budget and funding commitments to programmes like the second generation of EDCTP, and other projects in the Horizon 2020 programme that can support global health R&D. The EU can secure a place for global health R&D at the core of the EU’s position on the post-2015 agenda, acting as a vocal advocate for research and innovation. Member States can commit in a substantial way to support innovation in global health – in their policies and in their funding for EU programmes.

But what of the institution of which I am a member, the European Parliament? What can MEPs do?

The European Parliament and global health R&D – what can we do?

For our part, MEPs can hold the Commission and Member States to account on their commitments and, to ensure that they back up their aspirations with real action. We can improve our coordination between committees – ITRE, DEVE, and ENVI – to make sure that issues affecting the global health community and opportunities to act in support of innovation in this area do not fall through the cracks.

In my first year as an MEP I have been proud to support the DSW Let’s Save Lives campaign – which is focused on raising awareness and support around the need for investment on global health research and encouraging MEPs to engage in the issue. The campaign has been successful in creating a groundswell of support in the Parliament, and I look forward to working with my colleagues from across the EU that have signed up to take action on global health.

Tuberculosis – a tipping point

I believe we are close to a tipping point in the fight against TB, HIV & AIDS and malaria. We have never been nearer to the point where we will be able to reach, treat and cure everyone affected by tuberculosis. All we need to do is to build on the achievements of recent years and continue to push hard in support of new, cheaper and more effective ways to fight the disease.

If we work hard now, I am sure that in 2035 we will be able to announce that, yes, we have finally beaten TB for good.