Each year, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes World Tuberculosis (TB) Day to raise awareness of the health, social and economic impacts of the global TB epidemic. TB continues to persist as the world’s deadliest infectious disease, infecting upwards of 28,000 people every day and taking the lives of nearly 4,000—an already devastating landscape that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the world simultaneously grapples with the global coronavirus outbreak, TB is a public health crisis in urgent need of innovative solutions. Thankfully, there are innovators working across the world to develop, advance and bring to life novel ideas and technologies designed to help combat this infectious disease. In particular, innovators and organizations globally are turning to e-health, mobile tech and smartphone applications, and telehealth to advance and improve TB treatment for regions most in need of innovative solutions. In honor of World TB Day this year, we’re recognizing inventors at the forefront of innovations that have the power to change the global TB trajectory.
In India—the country with the largest number of TB cases in the world— innovators are working hard to address the burden of TB seen across the country. One major barrier to TB treatment is that the course of treatment can take months. Moreover, patients ending treatment early contributes to multi-drug resistant strands of the disease. To address these problems, ZMQ Global, has developed a programmatic approach to improving treatment called Freedom TB. The approach utilizes a mobile platform that allows patients report their adherence using video technology and has built in reminder systems, adherence tools, tracking and scheduling capabilities, and enables real-time communication with community health providers.
Another group in India—Doctors For You—has developed a program that also utilizes tech solutions to address TB treatment barriers and help deliver on the country’s National Tuberculosis Elimination Program. The program focuses on enabling continued care for those with critical drug-resistant TB remotely through the use of telemedicine via WhatsApp and an Uber-style delivery service.
In Kenya, where TB cases are also high, a new digital platform has already shown promising results in improving treatment for patients with TB in Nairobi. Keheala delivers TB intervention and disease management tools through basic mobile phone technology, nudging and supporting patients with information and behavioral tools throughout the duration of the treatment process. In pilot programs, patients who used the technology had a 96 percent treatment success rate.
Similarly, innovators in the Philippines and Ukraine have also turned to mobile technology in an effort to combat the high burden of TB their respective countries. Providers at De La Salle Medical and Health Sciences Institute in the Philippines created an app that, once downloaded onto a patient’s smartphone, connects them with health workers who can answer questions and track treatment adherence through Video Observed Treatment (VOT) technology. The Ukraine-based organization TBpeopleUkraine, also developed an app that supports adherence and empowers patients by enabling them to report barriers related to availability, accessibility and quality of TB services.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of groundbreaking innovation to combatting a deadly infectious disease and highlighted how telehealth can play an important role. The same goes for tuberculosis. Supporting, fostering and incentivizing innovation that has the power to save millions of lives from some of the world’s most challenging communicable diseases is vitally important if we want to improve health outcomes and reduce disease burden around the world. The organizations working each day to develop solutions to TB are a prime example of why robust IP rights—in place to protect and encourage this type of innovation that has meaningful impacts for patients and communities—are so vital to global health and continued progress. Stakeholders around the world must continue to stand up and speak out on behalf of these innovators and the systems that protect them—today, on World TB Day and every day.