The annual BRICS summit that concluded in China’s Xiamen city on Tuesday has drawn the world’s attention to the member nations’ tremendous accomplishments and promise.
The five economies that comprise the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – have experienced combined growth of nearly 180 percent in the past 10 years. They look set to usher in another “golden decade” that will benefit BRICS citizens and beyond.
But while that GDP growth is cause for celebration, there is a glaring health problem that needs to be a priority for the emerging economies that are home to 44 percent of the world’s population: They are among the most heavily plagued by tuberculosis, according to the World Health Organization.
The BRICS nations combined contribute to about 50 percent of all cases of TB in the world, according to the WHO’s latest Global Tuberculosis Report.
The BRICS club also accounts for 40 percent of all TB-related deaths, according to a previous report by the UN agency, which estimated that 1.4 million people died of TB globally in 2015.
As TB is widely known as a disease of poverty, the threat, if uncurbed, could push individuals, families and communities into destitution, suffering and debt, denting that dream for a BRICS golden decade.
It is reassuring to note that at both the sixth BRICS health ministers’ meeting in New Delhi last year and the seventh such gathering in China’s Tianjin in July, officials agreed to set up a BRICS-wide network on TB research and create an R&D consortium on TB, HIV and malaria.
The efforts mean the BRICS health authorities have realized the importance of pooling resources to address their common malady. The challenge is how to make the plan successful.
The WHO has urged each of the BRICS countries to continue to innovate and to ensure that future global tuberculosis strategies set ambitious but achievable targets.
International fundraising should be listed among the priorities, as the WHO has pointed out that BRICS countries, except India, rely mostly or exclusively on domestic funding.
Yet India’s spending per TB patient is the least among BRICS countries, The Hindu reported on March 18.
It’s laudable that Jim O’Neill, the former Goldman Sachs economist who coined the term “BRIC” in 2001, proposed that the BRICS collaborate on health issues, particularly infectious-disease prevention, and with that , funding for new tuberculosis drugs.
O’Neill said that by 2050 there could be 10 million people dying of antimicrobial resistant-related illnesses each year.
“Approximately one-third of these would be TB-related, and all five BRICS countries have a significant TB challenge. What better policy initiative could there be to finance the search for new TB drugs?” he wrote on the huffingtonpost.com just before the BRICS summit.
Researchers at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention forecast in July that the proportion of TB cases that don’t respond to one or more antibiotics will become far more common in Russia, India, the Philippines and South Africa by the year 2040.
In addition to funding for new drugs, there also should be a concerted effort to close the diagnostic and treatment gaps that persist among the five countries.
President Xi Jinping, speaking at the BRICS Business Forum on Sunday, said, “BRICS is not a talking shop, but a task force that gets things done.”
He noted that the five countries are engaged in practical cooperation across the board, covering several dozen areas, including health.
For the well-being of the people and the BRICS’ prosperity, let’s hope we get this TB thing done as soon as possible.
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