On Wednesday, the United Nations General Assembly will gather for a first-ever summit to examine the spread of tuberculosis (TB) globally, specifically in developing and underdeveloped regions.
There has been a seven percent decrease in the number of registered cases of tuberculosis infections but these figures come amid increased instances of a drug-resistant strain of the disease.
TB currently infects one-quarter of the world’s population and claims more lives than HIV/AIDS, annually. An estimated 1.6 million people or more died each year, across the globe, from TB, with South Africa having the second-highest rate of infection on the African continent.
There were more than 10.6 million cases of tuberculosis globally in 2016, according to officials from the Wellcome Center for Infectious Diseases Research in Cape Town, South Africa.
The center noted that the disease is becoming resistant to many antibiotics and "less than a quarter of the estimated 600,000 patients with multidrug-resistant … tuberculosis received diagnosis and were treated."
But, there is no definitive blueprint for how tuberculosis is developed and how drugs respond to the disease.
"TB is still a worldwide scourge and is easily transmitted via droplets that can be spread easily through talking, laughing, and simply being in the same room as an active TB patient," Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, noted.
However, in July, South Africa became the first country in the world to recommend an injection-free treatment regimen, following new data, demonstrating the country's commitment to tackling the deadly disease.
Researchers claim the new vaccine may prevent half of full-blown illnesses in infected people.
"We found that the incidence of pulmonary tuberculosis was significantly lower" for people who received the experimental M72/AS01 vaccine, than for people who received a "dummy" placebo shot, the findings of a medical report, published in New England Journal of Medicine on Sept. 25, disclosed.
In a phase 2 trial of the M72/AS01 vaccines, carried out among nearly 3,600 adults in Kenya, South Africa and Zambia, nearly half of participants received two injections of the newer vaccine, while the other half got placebo shots.
After an average of 2.3 years of follow-ups, the researchers reported that 22 people in the placebo group developed pulmonary TB, while just 10 who received the vaccine did, a 54 percent reduction.
The research group said the results are "promising" and they will "support [the vaccine's] further evaluation" in a phase 3 trial.