The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the tuberculosis (TB) drug Sirturo, also known as bedaquiline, “appears to be just the first step in an exciting renaissance for TB drug development,” Mark Harrington, executive director of Treatment Action Group (TAG), writes in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog. “Another new drug, delamanid, is currently in late clinical trials and has been submitted to the European Medicines Agency for review as a treatment for [multidrug-resistant (MDR)] TB,” he notes. Harrington concludes, “It’s an exciting time for TB treatment, but much more needs to be done and more resources are needed. We need to focus not only on the discovery and development of new drugs, but also on ensuring that news drugs are delivered to those who need them and in combinations that can prevent the emergence of new types of drug resistance” (12/28).
Access to Health Services
7 More Health Workers Killed In Pakistan In Attacks Suspected To Be Linked To Murders Of Polio Vaccinators
“Gunmen ambushed and shot dead six Pakistani women aid workers and a male doctor on Tuesday, police said, and the charity they worked for said it suspected the attacks were linked to recent murders of polio vaccination workers,” Reuters reports. “Two weeks ago, gunmen killed nine health workers taking part in a national polio vaccination drive in a series of attacks,” the news agency notes (Ahmad/Houreld, 1/1). The murders of the polio workers “brought the work of 225,000 vaccinators to a standstill,” the New York Times writes, adding, “Polio eradication officials have promised to regroup and try again. But first they must persuade the killers to stop shooting workers and even guarantee safe passage.” The newspaper examines the history of resistance to polio vaccination campaigns in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Mali (McNeil, 12/24).
“Thanks to a herculean effort by health advocates, 78 percent of children in low-income countries receive the basic set of childhood vaccines, covering diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B and haemophilus influenza,” a Bloomberg View editorial states. However, “[t]his campaign will be disrupted, and lives lost, if immunization critics win their latest battle for an international ban on a vaccine component” — thimerosal, a mercury-containing organic compound — “that has proved to be safe time and time again,” the editorial writes, noting, “Groups such as the Coalition for Mercury-Free Drugs and the Coalition for SafeMinds are pressing their case before the United Nations Environmental Program [UNEP] meets on Jan. 13 to prepare a global treaty reducing mercury use.”
“The Philippine President has signed into law a family-planning bill that was blocked by the Catholic Church for more than a decade,” Al Jazeera reports (12/28). “President Benigno Aquino III signed into a law a bill that promotes contraception and sex education in schools,” the Wall Street Journal writes, adding, “On Saturday, a deputy presidential spokeswoman confirmed in a statement that Mr. Aquino had quietly signed the act into law on Dec. 21, and it will take effect in January, guaranteeing contraceptives will be available to the poorest Filipinos” (Sandique-Carlos, 12/29).
Several newspapers published opinion pieces regarding the recent murders of polio vaccination workers in Pakistan. The following summarizes two opinion pieces and one editorial on the issue.
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration [on Monday] approved Johnson & Johnson’s drug to treat a form of resistant tuberculosis that is uncommon in the U.S. but growing globally,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “The drug, Sirturo, will treat patients with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, or MDR-TB, a possibly fatal disease that affects as many as 630,000 people worldwide who can’t be cured with existing therapies alone,” the newspaper notes (Walker/Tadena, 1/2).
Thai Health Advocates Work To Protect Special Provisions On Medicines Under E.U. Free Trade Agreement
Thailand and the European Union (E.U.) are expected to begin talks on a free trade agreement early this year, and Thai public health advocates have sent a letter to Joao Aguiar Machado, deputy director general for trade at the European Commission, “call[ing] for the bloc to respect global trade rules’ special provisions for developing countries,” Inter Press Service reports. “‘We are worried that the E.U. negotiators will force Thailand to accept new conditions on patents that would make access to new generic drugs more difficult,’ says Chalermsak Kittitrakul, campaign officer at the AIDS Access Foundation,” the news service writes, adding, “Thai health activists are hoping that their record of mounting successful campaigns against pharmaceutical giants — even from the United States — to ensure a thriving generic drugs market for patients in the country and across the region remains intact” (Macan-Markar, 12/29).
Jose “Oying” Rimon, deputy director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Ben de Leon, president of the Forum for Family Planning and Development, Inc., write in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog that the many people who worked for 14 years to pass a reproductive health bill in the Philippines are “profiles in courage.” They continue, “This is the story of these courageous people but it’s also a story of resolution in staying the course, abiding with scientific evidence and facts, and the nobility of staying positive against on onslaught of insults and misinformation.” The bill represents “an unparalleled educational process in which common sense and science prevailed,” they conclude (1/2).
“Measles cases surged in Pakistan in 2012, and hundreds of children died from the disease, an international health body said Tuesday,” the Associated Press/CBS News reports. “A spokeswoman for the World Health Organization, Maryam Yunus, said that 306 children died in Pakistan of measles in 2012, compared to 64 the year before,” the news agency writes (1/2). “She added that most of the children who died were from districts affected by floods for the past three years, and that malnourishment was a major reason for the high rate of measles deaths in Sindh,” GlobalPost writes (Langlois, 1/1).
The Wall Street Journal examines efforts to fight tuberculosis (TB) in Europe, writing, “All along the edges of Western Europe, new and hard-to-defeat strains of tuberculosis are gaining a foothold, often moving beyond traditional victims — alcoholics, drug users, HIV patients — and into the wider population.” The article focuses on the efforts of Estonia to turn the tide against multidrug-resistant TB, saying the country’s success “offers one of the few bright spots globally as the ancient plague mutates into new and more deadly forms.” The newspaper continues, “Indeed, experts say the country, with half the population of Chicago, could be a model for others. But there is one catch: It takes years and some pricey treatments just to gain the upper hand” (Naik, 12/31).