Funding the TB research drive

Tuberculosis (TB) remains a major but neglected cause of adult and childhood morbidity and mortality in Africa, making it one of the most common preventable causes of death from a single infectious agent.
Factors such as population increase, an unfavourable socio-economic environment and HIV and AIDS are believed to be responsible for the upsurge of TB cases in Africa.
TB is a disease caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria usually attack the lungs but can also attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain.
If not treated properly, TB can be fatal.
ScieDev.Net writer Linda Nordling says international bodies are offering research opportunities but African funding is needed to prepare the ground.
Nordling says: “Much more money is going into TB research drive now. Therefore, African researchers should return to local opportunities to study TB and African nations need to fund clinical trials infrastructure.”
The growing interest among international research agencies and funders to locate more of their work in Africa is a great opportunity for the continent.
Nordling goes on to say, “To capitalise on modern research, African governments must invest in the basic infrastructure required to do science.”
Accordingly, political leaders on the continent should make Africa attractive for research investment; the continent should construct well-resourced universities, decent roads and relatively research-friendly laws to attract more researchers to play a part in the fight to combat the disease.
Furthermore, an enabling environment can also attract TB researchers to come and work in Africa.
African governments should also boost their annual research and development budgets. It is probably unrealistic to expect African governments to increase their TB research and development budget to match allocations in developed countries, but more than is presently being done can and should be done.
Setting aside a small percentage of revenues from natural resources for medical research would be in African countries’ best interests, and would do away with the present scenario on almost exclusively relying on Western aid for development of our healthcare sectors.
Money should be put into medical education, clinical research trials and infrastructure development.
There is also need to co-ordinate research in different areas so that trial sites can be used by other projects during what would otherwise be downtime.
Nordling says: “African countries should strengthen their capacity to host clinical research, which would allow them to tap into the flow of expertise and research funding from the North and from emerging economies such as China and India.”
For Africa to benefit, true partnerships are needed and any form of aid and/or investments from other continents should come with genuine wishes to build up local research capacity in partnership with African institutions.
Increasing political commitment and partnerships at country, regional and continental levels, adopting feasible and cost-effective measures to contain the TB/HIV dual epidemic, adopting pragmatic measures to sustain TB control in the context of health sector reform and development, ensuring quality anti-TB drugs at affordable cost, improving surveillance and monitoring, and promoting and implementing research will all go a long way in combating TB.

May 2013
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