The READY NEXT TIME REPORT, prepared last year by Campaigns in Global Health and released by the UK Parliament, represents a comprehensive investigation into the relationship between tuberculosis (TB) control and pandemic preparedness, prevention, and response (PPPR), with a special focus on other respiratory pathogens. This report is a culmination of an extensive process that includes applying WHO guidelines on TB and PPPR, an in-depth review of both academic and less formal “grey” literature, and interviews with more than 30 experts in these fields. A critical question underpins this study: Are efforts to end TB and strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response (PPR) really competing agendas?
The report aims to identify overlapping strategies between TB control and PPPR, with the goal of simultaneously advancing both fields.
What did the report find?
The findings of the READY NEXT TIME report are quite revealing. The report identifies specific areas where TB and PPPR intersect, including governance, accountability, prevention, detection, response and innovation. This overlap is crucial, because it shows how strategies for TB can benefit PPPR efforts and vice versa.
For example, TB programmes have historically faced challenges due to constrained resources and a narrowly focused approach. This has led to inefficiencies and insufficiently person-centred care. However, by integrating these programmes with pandemic preparedness and response initiatives, there’s an opportunity to enhance efficiency and care quality. Also, such integration could reduce costs and accelerate response times, benefiting both TB and PPPR efforts.
Notably, the report highlights Nigeria’s EPCON AI project as a “world leading programme” for pandemic preparedness. EPCON employs AI to pinpoint populations vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases, especially where individuals are not seeking treatment. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, EPCON adeptly adapted its focus, successfully identifying hotspots of the virus. This pivot demonstrates the remarkable potential of specialised projects, like those targeting tuberculosis, to make significant contributions to global pandemic response efforts.
Even when there isn’t an active pandemic, the report emphasises the importance of maintaining integrated systems. This is vital to staying prepared for any future outbreaks.
Due to the similarities between TB and other respiratory pathogens with pandemic potential, the report recommends investments in systems that:
Ensure a strong alignment in governance, funding and accountability between PPPR and TB initiatives, including TB management in National Health Security Action Plans.
Focus on preventing respiratory pandemics by strategically investing in expanded access to advanced drug susceptibility testing, enhancing surveillance of pathogens, such as drug-resistant TB, and building capacity for tackling zoonotic diseases.
Enhance the detection platforms for respiratory pathogens by optimising diagnostic networks, developing real-time digital surveillance systems, and expanding the health workforce with respiratory disease competencies.
Strengthen health systems’ ability to effectively tackle respiratory pandemics by focusing on community-led healthcare systems for marginalised populations and enhancing social protection and patient support programmes.
Support the development and scaling up of innovative solutions to combat respiratory pathogens. This entails directing research and development (R&D) investments towards technologies with versatile applications, increasing trial site capacity, and minimising delays by fortifying regulatory frameworks.
Mobilise political momentum to synchronise PPPR efforts with the objective of eradicating TB via highlighting these alignments in UN High-Level meetings, securing high-level political leadership, and urging national parliamentary health committees to focus on harmonsing PPPR and TB efforts.
These recommendations, and the report in general, aim to create an approach where TB management and pandemic preparedness work together for mutual benefit, leading to more robust and effective healthcare systems worldwide.