The development of new and improved TB treatments that reduce the global TB burden could help increase the productivity of entire regions and promote sustainable and self-determined economies, opening up new engines of innovation, trade, and industry. The concept of health being a necessary precursor to wealth is as true for the world as a whole as it is for the individual.
TB will rob the world's poorest countries of an estimated $1 to $3 trillion over the next 10 years. This will disproportionately impact developing countries, where 94 percent of TB cases and 98 percent of TB deaths occur. Particularly troubling for the prospects of global prosperity, 75 percent of TB cases arise during people's most productive years, between the ages of 15 and 54.
Poor, crowded living conditions increase the risk of contagious infection. TB and poverty create a vicious cycle, whereby the disease exacerbates poverty, which in turn increases the likelihood of contracting TB. This is extremely distressing news for the 2.7 billion around the world who live on $2 per day or less.
The World Bank estimates that loss of productivity attributable to TB is 4 to 7 percent of some countries' GDP. Entire economies are affected by the world's TB epidemic, stifling human development on a large scale. Concomitantly, the burgeoning cost of TB medical care is a constant drain on those health systems whose infrastructures are least able to carry the load. Many TB-endemic nations can't afford to treat their own patients, leaving donor countries to procure TB drugs for the developing world. Treatment for drug-resistant TB is financially out of reach for most who suffer from the disease.
Many national healthcare systems are overburdened by the TB epidemic; the infrastructure necessary for TB treatment represents the bulk of their costs — about $4 billion annually. A shorter regimen that eliminates many of the doctor visits could drastically cut those expenses. Funding could then be redirected to basic healthcare and increased resources for TB control. Whole economies would benefit, especially in nations that bear the brunt of the TB pandemic.
The ROI on investing in
new TB drugs can be
measured in global
TB commonly destroys families where it is prevalent, with women bearing the brunt of the stigma of the disease. In TB-endemic regions, the burden of TB is greatest for women in their childbearing years. Over the next five years, without effective interventions, up to four million women will die from TB and 50 million children will be orphaned. Further, hundreds of thousands of children will die from TB over the same period. It is estimated that 550,000 children suffer from TB each year and 80,000 die. However, TB is notoriously difficult to diagnose in children and therefore many experts believe the pediatric burden of TB is even higher.
The economic toll on families is also very difficult. TB treatment is often free, at least for drug-sensitive tuberculosis, but patients incur other costs, like transportation and hospital costs, at the same time they have likely reduced their working hours or stopped working completely. The WHO calculates that the average TB patient loses three to four months of work-time and up to 30 percent of yearly household earnings.
A shorter drug regimen would reduce lost work-time and lessen the economic impact of TB on individuals' lives, and in turn help stabilize families, save and enrich the lives of millions of children, and enable a healthier, more productive labor force in many TB-endemic countries.
Investing in the development of new TB drugs is not just a humanitarian imperative; it is sound economic policy as well. Research indicates treating MDR-TB, even with today's lengthy, complicated, and expensive tools, is cost-effective and in a country's best interest. For many endemic countries, this is just not possible, no matter how sensible, because of a lack of resources today.
Investing in the development of new, shorter, safer, and affordable MDR-TB treatments is necessary to increase productivity, which is made possible by a population unhindered by TB. As MDR-TB and XDR-TB continue to spread, unchecked, the economic stranglehold the epidemic has on endemic and developing countries will only become more profound, and the affected countries less able to address the epidemic. For this reason, the world must invest in tomorrow's tools today.