A Breakthrough in the Fight Against TB

March 28, 2011
Joanne Carter, RESULTS Executive Director

This blog previously appeared on The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation website:

On a Friday evening in 1882, Dr. Robert Koch stood before a rapt audience at the Berlin Physiological Society and presented a momentous discovery: the identification of the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. Koch became a household name as news of his discovery spread around the globe. The New York Times reported it as “one of the most impressive and striking achievements of the human mind.”

World TB Day

A newly available tool called GeneXpert has the potential to radically alter this picture. About the size of an espresso machine, GeneXpert uses DNA technology to diagnose TB quickly and accurately. It’s more effective in detecting TB in people with HIV/AIDS, and can immediately determine likelihood of drug resistance. With minimal training, a health care worker can deliver these results in about two hours.

Our work in global health should be driven by the simple premise that where you are born should not determine whether you have access to life-saving technology, whether it’s anti-retroviral therapy to treat AIDS, a new vaccine to prevent pneumonia, or a diagnostic to detect TB. Opportunities like GeneXpert can be the nexus of technology and justice if we can seize them through innovative partnerships like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The Global Fund provides two-thirds of all external funding for TB control. It will be critical in financing the equitable roll-out of GeneXpert in poor countries and achieving the scale necessary to drive down costs.

The New York Times said of Dr. Koch’s discovery, “to draw from it its great possible benefits is the work of the future.” There is still work to be done 129 years later – but we have an exciting new tool with which to do it.


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