Opening plenary session highlights resistance to drugs, innovation and change

Opening plenary session highlights resistance to drugs, innovation and change

The first plenary session of The Union World Conference brought together scientists and researchers from a range of backgrounds to discuss the theme ‘Confronting Resistance’ which highlights resistance in several ways, including drug-resistance and resistance to change and innovation. 

Thomas Matte, Vice President for Environmental Health at Vital Strategies, an affiliate of The Union, began his talk on the impact of air pollution on adult and child lung health by saying, “All of us are exposed to air pollution, whether in urban or rural settings.”

Echoing themes from the Community Common cookstove exhibit on Wednesday, which demonstrated how domestic solid fuel fires cause over 4 million deaths yearly, he explained how household air pollution increases the likelihood of tuberculosis (TB) and other lung diseases.  He said:

“We must ensure investments are made to expand access to clean cooking fuels. This would be a truly transformative solution.”

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the cleaner and better energy technology", he concluded.

Dr Jennifer Gardy spoke about TB genomics in public health. She invited the crowd to vote, and together they agreed that public health has a reputation for bureaucracy, but she congratulated the public health community for embracing the use of genomics to understand TB.

Genomics is the study of genetic material to help understand the workings of organisms and what happens when they react with the environment. This practice is a valuable tool to help answer questions about TB treatment and care, and to track how the disease moves through a population. Dr Gardy and her team used this technique to track a TB outbreak in a small community in British Columbia, Canada,  all the way back to a homeless shelter. Finding the root of the outbreak ensured treatment and preventive measures were made available for those who needed it.

UNITAID’s Janet Ginnard closed the session with a talk on ‘funding innovation to confront resistance’.

“Drug-resistant TB makes up only six percent of cases, but 14 percent of deaths and 25 percent of total costs”, she said, warning that “international funding for health is expected to plateau, with more competition for increasingly scarce resources”.

Last month’s landmark declaration by the United Nations to help fight the threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) worldwide has opened up the opportunity for the public health community to position TB as central to that discussion.

"The unprecedented global attention on AMR presents a unique moment for TB to leverage momentum and resources", said Dr Ginnard, calling on the TB community to “seize this moment to challenge resistance”.

The Karel Styblo Public Health Prize was awarded to the Japan Anti-Tuberculosis Association for their contribution and commitment to tuberculosis control for more than 70 years.

The session was chaired by Prof Janet Hemingway, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Catharina Boehme, Switzerland, and Hon Stephen Mule, MP, Kenya.