The Union demands that TB be included in the WHO list of bacteria for which new antibiotics urgently needed

On 28 February, The Union stated that it is unacceptable that tuberculosis (TB) was excluded from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) published list of antibiotic-resistant ‘priority pathogens’, released the day before. On World TB Day, The Union reaffirms this urgent message.

The Union further adds that the WHO must revise the list to include TB – the world’s leading infectious disease killer – with immediate effect and calls upon the international community to support demands that TB be included in the catalogue of bacteria posing the greatest threat to human health – and for which new antibiotics are urgently needed.

The bacteria that cause TB kill more people than any other infectious pathogen. Latest WHO figures state that in 2015, 1.8 million people died, including 210,000 children. An estimated 580,000 people were reported to have drug resistant versions of TB – both multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) – while actual numbers affected could be even higher.

The only way of treating TB is with antibiotics. Current treatments for resistant forms of TB are arduous and are accompanied by side effects that include deafness and psychosis, as well as practical difficulties for families, communities, health systems and livelihoods.

TB R&D has been systematically underfunded during the previous decade. The current spending of $620 million on all TB R&D (vaccines, diagnostics and treatment) is only one third of the $2 billion annual funding target outlined in the 2011–2015 WHO Global Plan. Funding in TB drug R&D is only 28% of the $810 million called for in the Global Plan to End TB 2016-2020. This is counter to the global aim of accelerating progress against TB in order to reach the ‘End TB Strategy’ by 2030.

“It is outrageous to sideline TB from global antimicrobial resistance (AMR) efforts. The Union strongly urges WHO to include TB on its list of priority pathogens. Among the group of antimicrobial-resistant diseases, drug-resistant TB is a leading cause of sickness and death.

Failing to include TB on its list was a dramatic departure from the data, and it undermines efforts to find the new and better treatments that patients desperately need. This is particularly critical for those countries where drug-resistant TB is epidemic,” said José Luis Castro, Executive Director, The Union.

“As G20 leaders are set to meet and discuss an agenda for tackling antimicrobial resistance, The Union strongly urges them to follow the data. They should include TB in any G20 initiatives aimed at increasing R&D investments and piloting models to deliver new medicines used to treat antimicrobial-resistant disease,” said Dr Jeremiah Chakaya Muhwa, President of The Union.

Read the WHO press release: WHO publishes list of bacteria for which new antibiotics are urgently needed

On 1 March, The Union wrote to the World Health Organization, protesting the exclusion of TB from the antibiotic-resistant pathogen list: 

Read our letter in full

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