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Europe risks TB time bomb unless EU agrees joined-up strategy to combat disease

Tuberculosis (TB) has re-emerged as a significant problem for the European Union and unless serious steps are taken to raise awareness and align strategy across Europe all previous progress made in controlling the disease will be undone warns a new report* by the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC). The warning comes as nations across Europe and the globe mark World TB Day (24 March).

The disease is a major public health problem worldwide with considerable economic impact and with a growing number of TB strains resistant to the commonly-used antibiotics (first-line drugs), necessitating the use of more complicated, expensive and less well tolerated treatment schedules; there has never been a more urgent need for a shared EU policy agenda.

The report calls for better interaction between the EU, WHO, G8, World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other stakeholders to drive forward this shared policy agenda. It also highlights the key role that the European biomedical research and public health communities have in developing a validated evidence base for TB and identifying and communicating best practices.

EASAC recommends that steps be taken to improve TB data collection across the EU. It suggests that methodologies for TB data collection be standardised for more consistent generation and sharing of drug sensitivity testing and typing data within the public sector. Support for innovation in diagnostics, drug regimens and vaccines is highlighted as a priority. In the report, EASAC calls for a substantial increase in funding for TB research from the European Union as well as individual Member States.

 Since the discovery of the pathogen, achievements in biomedicine have provided tools for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of TB. It had even been considered conquered in many European countries. However, the growing number of TB strains resistant to the commonly-used antibiotics mean that it is fast becoming a major problem again, says Professor Volker ter Meulen, Chairman of the EASAC Working Group on Drug Resistant Tuberculosis and President of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina.
Incidence rates differ markedly across the EU but this growing propensity for drug resistance threatens all Member States. Countries in Central and Eastern Europe have some of the highest rates of multi-drug resistant TB in the world. Unless the EU comes together to form a coherent strategy for tackling the disease, we will be facing a very costly pandemic both in terms of our economy and the lives lost.

*Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis: Challenges, Consequences and Strategies for Control - European Academies Science Advisory Council

1. EASAC makes five recommendations for tackling Tuberculosis in the EU:

  • Strengthen TB data collection across the EU
  • Determine EU strategy in a global context
  • Raise awareness of TB as a public health issue
  • Provide increased support for new models of TB research
  • Provide increased support for innovation in diagnostics, drug regiments and vaccines
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