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BEIJING -- At a global meeting of health ministers today, Bill Gates joined Chinese Minister of Health Chen Zhu to announce an innovative partnership to help fight a serious tuberculosis epidemic in China. The initiative will be led by the Chinese Ministry of Health and is supported by a grant of $33 million over five years from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The goal of the partnership is to improve detection and treatment of the estimated 1.5 million TB cases that occur each year in China, drawing on the latest innovations in TB control. Funding from the Gates Foundation will help China introduce new TB diagnostic tests, drug regimens, patient monitoring strategies, and health delivery approaches that could significantly improve the effectiveness of TB diagnosis and treatment across the country.
“This partnership with China comes at a critical time in the world’s response to tuberculosis,” said Mr. Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “The rise of drug-resistant TB worldwide has created a new urgency to combat the disease, while scientific innovation is leading to new technologies that will help us succeed. China is taking the threat of TB very seriously, and we’re excited to support its efforts.”
“This tuberculosis prevention and control program is a continuation of the successful cooperation between the Chinese Ministry of Health and the Gates Foundation that began on the issue of HIV/AIDS,” said Minister Chen. “It aims to establish an effective TB prevention model through the exploration of new diagnostic tools and methods. This will not only benefit TB prevention and control efforts both in China and throughout the world, but it also sets an excellent example of the partnership between government and private sectors that is widely promoted by the international community, and we hope it will accelerate the progress of reaching the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.”
Mr. Gates is in Beijing for a meeting with health ministers and senior officials from 27 countries affected by the rise of multi-drug resistant (MDR) TB and to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on this new partnership with the Chinese Ministry of Health. MDR TB is a form of the disease that is resistant to the two best TB drugs being used today and is especially difficult and costly to treat. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), China is one of the countries with the most serious MDR-TB epidemic.
“TB is an increasing threat because of gaps in the way the disease is diagnosed and treated,” Mr. Gates said. “This partnership will help cut off drug resistance at its source by applying innovative approaches to strengthen basic TB control.”
Following the completion of the first two-and-a-half years of this partnership, China will determine how to progressively expand the innovations that have been proven to be effective into 20 cities, diagnosing and treating 50,000 TB patients each year. This partnership will not only accelerate progress in the national TB control program; it will also provide evidence that can benefit other countries facing similar challenges in TB control.
Introduction to the New TB Partnership
Preparation for this new partnership began in 2007 and involved several rounds of discussions between the Chinese Ministry of Health and the Gates Foundation. The goal of the project is to improve the quality of TB control by using innovative tools and delivery methods. The project will bring together innovations that are effective in preventing, controlling and managing TB, thereby facilitating progress in the national TB control plan. The new technologies and innovative delivery methods to be piloted include:
New diagnostic tests that can dramatically improve detection of TB
Drug resistance tests that can identify MDR-TB in a matter of hours, as opposed to the six or more weeks that a standard test currently requires
New strategies to help TB patients take their medicines regularly for the entire 6-8 months of treatment, such as cell phone text messaging and medicine kits with built-in reminder alarms
Fixed-dose drug combinations that reduce the number of pills a patient has to take each day by 70%
A new model of collaboration between hospitals and the public health system to provide high-quality and affordable TB diagnosis and treatment
New incentives and approaches for health care workers to provide effective follow-up of TB patients during treatment
New approaches to ensure high-quality fixed-dose combination and second line TB drugs are produced
The foundation’s grant totals $33 million and will be implemented in six provinces. The project will last for five years (2009-2014). During the first two-and-a-half years, innovative tools and delivery approaches will be pilot-tested to determine their effectiveness and feasibility. During the last two-and-a-half years, the most effective innovations will be further scaled up and evaluated. Beyond the five-year partnership, it is hoped that this large-scale demonstration will lead to national scale-up of these innovations across China.