Top multinational business and nonprofit leaders concluded that private sector core competencies are essential to help curb the spread of tuberculosis (TB) — a treatable disease ravaging the developing world. These competencies can be leveraged by:
-- Forging strategic, public/private partnerships with a focus on driving results and incorporating business skill and expertise
-- Leveraging the private sector’s assets – beyond philanthropy
-- Increasing – and diversifying – the pool of private sector participants
Participants at a business-focused panel held March 23 in New York City discussed these critical efforts in the fight against TB.John Tedstrom, president and CEO of the Global Business Coalition HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria (GBC), moderated the roundtable discussion. Tedstrom set the tone by issuing an urgent "call to action" to the business community. "We need a recommitment from the private sector on engagement in TB in 2010," he said.
Noting that most cases of multidrug-resistant (MDR) and extensively drug-resistant (XDR) TB are occurring in emerging markets like China, Russia and India, he emphasized that these are the very countries where business is investing with an eye on economic success. Since TB targets working-age populations and saps worker productivity by as much as 30 percent, the business sector has a compelling, bottom-line interest in overcoming the disease.
Bringing a perspective from the diagnostic side of the equation, Philippe Jacon, president of BD Diagnostic Systems, stressed that "technology alone is not the answer."
"Investments in health systems strengthening and sustainability efforts are key," he said, "to make sure that the products and tools that have been developed are used correctly over the long run." BD was cited for its collaboration with the Foundation for Innovative Diagnostics (FIND) in delivering price-discounted, liquid culture TB testing to the 22 high-risk countries that generate 80 percent of all new TB cases worldwide.
“Medical treatments for TB have been available for more than 40 years,” said Martina Flammer, MD, Pfizer Inc.'s senior director for global access, which focuses on emerging markets and low-income populations. "This demonstrates the need to look at the problem from a system-wide point of view, and not narrowly."
Business-focused contributions to this global problem are becoming increasingly important, given that incidence of MDR TB has reached record levels. The World Health Organization recently reported that TB had killed 150,000 people in 2008. The disease infects between 400,000 and 500,000 people worldwide each year.
Dr. Marcos Espinal, Stop TB Partnership executive secretary, said that his experience with the organization repeatedly reminds him that "TB is not a medical problem. TB is an economic, development and political issue." He emphasized the urgent need for awareness, advocacy and expanded partnerships.
Underscoring the lack of awareness about many TB basics, Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation general counsel Rita Khanna pointed out that “many people think there already is a TB vaccine.” She described the foundation's promising collaborations with such pharmaceutical firms as GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi Pasteur in vaccine development. She also cautioned about hindrances that national regulatory systems can pose to achieving global health goals.
Panelists concurred that efforts to improve the detection and treatment of TB serve as an excellent entry point for overall health systems strengthening in developing nations. They agreed that building capacity to diagnose and treat TB also creates an infrastructure that can be sustained and applied to other future health crises -- whether other infectious diseases, or more chronic problems like diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
The roundtable – titled “Business Action Against TB: Collaborating for Deeper Impact” – was among a range of events organized around the globe in conjunction with World TB Day 2010.
“The business sector has clearly come a long way in refining its approach to the TB epidemic, and each panelist added real value to the discussion,” Jacon said. “Events like this give the business world the opportunity to increase our effectiveness.”
Tedstrom closed the session by asking Espinal to crystallize just what the global TB battle needed most from the business community.
"Engagement," said the Stop TB executive director. "And corporate engagement has to be more than just in the lab. We need a level of strategic engagement that taps into other corporate expertise and resources, like Coca-Cola’s supply chain, or the communications power of Google."
The business-focused panel, held at Thomson Reuters headquarters in Times Square with the assistance of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was sponsored by BD in cooperation with the GBC.
For more information, visit www.gbcimpact.org/tb