Recently, RESULTS UK partnered with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) to host a film screening and panel discussion during Antibiotic Awareness Week (18-24 November), an annual advocacy and awareness raising initiative that seeks to stop the further emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance. Our London grassroots group were also there to talk about global health advocacy with attendees.
Antibiotic resistance, or AMR for short, occurs when the bacteria that make us ill become resistant to the medicines we use to treat them. It’s a huge global problem because antibiotics are at the heart of modern medicine, enabling us to treat diseases and making routine medical interventions like surgery and cancer treatment possible. Projections of the future impact of AMR paint a very scary picture for both public health and the global economy, and governments have been grappling with how to tackle this challenge before it’s too late.
In the case of tuberculosis (TB), we can already see the catastrophic implications of global inaction. Because TB has been curable with a simple course of antibiotics, many people falsely view TB as a disease of the past. In fact, about 10 million people fall ill with TB each year. About 500,000 of those people will develop a drug-resistant strain of TB (DR-TB), which is responsible for a staggering one-third of all AMR-associated infections today.
TB is transmitted through the air, so anyone can catch it. If you are unlucky enough to breathe in one of the drug-resistant bacteria, the drugs we usually use to treat TB don’t work. Doctors are left with an outdated set of medicines that are not only ineffective, but also associated with a huge range of side-effects including liver failure, hearing loss and psychosis. Thanks to gradual increases in public investment in research, we now have three new anti-TB drugs to treat DR-TB which are slightly better, but access to these treatments remains hugely limited.
It’s also really concerning that only about 38% of all people with DR-TB are correctly diagnosed. We have new diagnostic tests that enable us to diagnose DR-TB much faster than we used to, but without major investments from governments and donors, hundreds of thousands of people with DR-TB are being treated incorrectly, getting sicker every day and potentially passing the drug-resistant infection on to their loved ones without knowing.
To draw attention to this crisis, RESULTS UK partnered with LSHTM’s TB and AMR Centres and FIND to screen a new documentary that shines a light on the lived experience of those diagnosed with MDR-TB. ‘Unmasked’ tells the story of three South African doctors, their experience of MDR-TB treatment, and their journey to becoming TB activists.
In a subsequent panel discussion, experts debated the challenges of diagnosing and treating drug-resistant TB, and the urgent need to advocate for public investments in TB programmes and research.
If you’d like to find out more about FIND and the work they are doing to both develop new diagnostic tests and make them accessible around the world, you can visit their website.
You can now watch Unmasked: We All Breathe on Amazon.