3 min read
22 September 2022
South Africa’s 7th Tuberculosis Conference took place in Durban last week. Still, there were a few empty seats after it emerged that the conference’s main sponsor, the Foundation for Professional Development (FPD), had committed the fraternity’s deadliest sin: it had accepted an R2-million research grant from the tobacco industry in 2021. The money came from a front group for tobacco giant Philip Morris International.
Accepting money from the tobacco industry is taboo in the world of public health due to the industry’s track record of purposefully misleading the public and casting doubt over scientific evidence of the harms of smoking. After the blunder was discovered, three high-profile attendees, including the World Health Organisation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, another major NGO, withdrew from the conference.
The impact on the organising committee was massive as they scrambled in the last ten days to re-organise and repair public relations. Thankfully the conference was a success as it garnered the most extensive interest the forum has seen.
Speaking to Radio Islam, Joan Van Dyke from Bhekisisa Health said that the conference is South Africa’s biggest gathering of TB experts and researchers to get South Africa’s TB response back on track.
The world of public health says big tobacco is pushing an agenda of getting people to smoke, or the newest trend is to get people to try the more recent products like vapes and other tobacco products.
TB is a massive problem in South Africa, but it doesn’t get adequate attention. People chose to ignore it, so the interest and research requested from the public were promising, which is why they pushed ahead. They did consider cancelling the conference altogether, but it was a massive research gathering with lots of knowledge and new ideas.
The goal of research and what South African TB patients need from TB science is a treatment with fewer side effects and shorter therapy, and that’s the kind of research people were presenting.
Diagnosing TB can be difficult; children often struggle to cough in a way that produces enough sputum for people to test, and also various projects that are striving to fix this, for example, an AI machine that a person could cough into. It would decipher whether it is a product of a cold, TB, or even COVID-19.
There were also results from studies where research would take mobile clinics out to outlying communities and test to see if they could catch some of the TB cases that otherwise would not have been detected.
And finally, to see the importance of tailoring these TB projects for adolescence and young adults who are frequently missed by South Africa’s clinics because they are just not geared in a way that picks up that group.
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By Muhammad Bham