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Ending Tuberculosis in Asia Pacific

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Johnson & Johnson, together with advocates and experts, came together to discuss and align on how best to tackle the tuberculosis (TB) crisis in the Asia-Pacific region, with the WHO Southeast Asia region witnessing the largest number of new TB cases globally.

Over two days on 30 November and 7 December, Johnson & Johnson, together with the National Tuberculosis Programs of Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, hosted the Asia-Pacific Tuberculosis Forum 2021. The forum was convened with the goal of advancing regional progress toward ending tuberculosis (TB) – which, despite being preventable and treatable, remains one of the leading causes of death from an infectious disease in Asia-Pacific.  

With the theme ‘United Against TB’, the two-day virtual forum was attended by almost 500 participants, including leaders, policymakers, NGOs, and clinicians from across Asia-Pacific. Speakers from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam shared local best practices, learnings, challenges, and recommendations, with the mutual aim of achieving the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal of ending TB by 2030.

A key discussion area was on improving case detection, which remains one of the most significant barriers in the fight against TB. In Asia Pacific, TB incidence was estimated at 6.1 million in 2020, but only 3.9 million cases were notified. Notably, the WHO Southeast Asia region carries the highest burden for TB globally, reporting the largest number of new cases (43%) in 2020. 4 in 10 people with TB in the region go undiagnosed and untreated, a situation exacerbated by health disruptions caused by COVID-19. This in turn has led to the number of people diagnosed and treated in worst-affected countries fall to 2008 levels, threatening progress toward ending TB.

Reflecting on the forum, Ana-Maria Ionescu, Global TB Franchise Lead, Johnson & Johnson Global Public Health, said, “The forum demonstrated the determination, focus, and innovation of the TB community and national TB programs in Asia-Pacific, which have been critical in maintaining lifesaving, continuity of essential TB services for so many people living with TB, and mitigating some of the worst impacts of COVID-19. Johnson & Johnson is deeply committed to unlock innovation at local, regional and global levels to find the millions of missing, undiagnosed people that are living with tuberculosis – and in this way contribute towards the goal that all of us share – making TB a disease of the past.

Taking a roadmap approach for building future patient finding strategies, discussions centred around leveraging innovative thinking, technologies and public-private partnership approaches that accelerate implementation impact.

•             Improving TB notification rates remains a priority, which calls for an intensification of case-finding both within and beyond health facilities;

•             Lessons learned from tackling other global health crises, such as COVID-19 and HIV, can be leveraged to enhance the existing TB response;

•             New technologies can help support and address each stage of the TB patient journey – from utilising data analytics and machine learning to improve TB notification rates, to leveraging the latest X-ray technology and molecular diagnostics to enhance early TB diagnosis and help ensure that patients receive timely, optimal treatment. Telehealth and digitalisation will also play an increasingly important role in TB control and prevention;

•             Forging strategic partnerships between public and private sectors and bringing more stakeholders – such as local authorities, agencies, and social and civil organisations – into the TB movement is key to ending TB;

•             Innovative collaborations need to go beyond industry lines to better address patient needs. Notable examples included

o             The partnership between Xian Janssen Pharmaceutical and Tencent in China to jointly build a drug-resistant TB patient platform to provide health-related services;

o             Supporting the MTV Staying Alive Foundation in India on an ‘edutainment’ campaign to drive awareness and education among young people; and

o             Johnson & Johnson’s work with PATH on Breath for Life (B4L), an initiative launched in 2016 that aimed to accelerate pediatric TB case detection, treatment and prevention through the strengthening of health systems in the northern rural mountainous province of Nghe An, Vietnam.

•             The stigma and discrimination associated with TB continues to hamper effective case-finding and diagnosis efforts. Therefore, it is imperative to drive direct and indirect health communication to patients, family members and community to facilitate an encourage a supportive ecosystem for patients. For example, ‘Ending Workplace TB’ is an initiative aimed at driving the private sector to play a defining role in overcoming the disease, by leveraging the untapped potential of businesses around the world to reach millions of workers and their communities.

The forum also stressed the importance of mobilising youth to end TB. Young people between the ages of 15-34 are disproportionately affected by TB, carrying the heaviest burdens of the disease. Johnson & Johnson recognises that a key first step is in enabling their meaningful participation in national TB efforts and will be exploring initiatives aimed at activating youths as agents of change in the region.

Jacki Hatfield, Global Strategic Partnership Lead TB, Johnson & Johnson said, “To ensure that no young person is left behind, we need to recognise youths as agents of change capable of addressing pertinent issues in tackling tuberculosis, such as gaps in awareness and access, as well as confronting stigma and discrimination. Through our ongoing work, we look forward to advancing engagement with youths and amplifying their voices to end TB.”

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About the author


Editor in chief for eTurboNew is Linda Hohnholz. She is based in the eTN HQ in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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