BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

February 17, 2019

Research Roundup: SFOPs funding for FY19, Lassa fever outbreak in West Africa, and new TB drug may shorten treatment time

Ansley Kahn
Program Assistant
GHTC
PATH/Felix Masi

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On Friday, February 15, President Trump signed into law a spending bill covering funding for State & Foreign Operations (SFOPs) for fiscal year (FY) 2019. The bill provides US$8.8 billion to the overall Global Health Programs account at the State Department and US Agency for International Development (USAID), which is a $150 million increase from the FY18 enacted level and $2.1 billion above the President’s FY19 request. Funding for all global health programs at the State Department and USAID either increased or remained flat compared to the FY18 enacted level and were also well above the President’s budget request.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is working to contain an unprecedented outbreak of Lassa fever in West Africa, which has killed 59 people in recent weeks. This Ebola-like virus is transmitted to humans via exposure to contaminated rate urine and droppings, as well as from person-to-person. Although Lassa fever is endemic in parts of West Africa with outbreaks occurring yearly, health officials have confirmed at least 275 cases in Nigeria—the epicenter of the outbreak—since the beginning of the year. WHO has expressed concern regarding the high number of cases so early in the Lassa fever season, which is due to last another four months. Controlling Lassa fever is a challenge because its symptoms can be vague, such as headaches and chest pain, making the disease difficult to diagnose, and there is no licensed vaccine yet available. To contain the current outbreak, WHO is forming a regional coordination mechanism to share, process, and evaluate information regarding suspected cases and is also intensifying public awareness efforts about how to deter rats.

In experimental studies conducted in mice, an antibiotic drug called AN12855 was shown to be more effective against tuberculosis (TB) than isoniazid, one of the standard treatments available. The new drug demonstrated both a much lower tendency to develop resistance, and it remained in the tissues where the bacteria that causes TB resides for longer, thus killing the bacteria more effectively. Further studies are required to determine if these outcomes will translate to improvements in treatments for humans. Current treatment for TB can range from six months to more than a year; thus, researchers are working to develop new drug regimens that shorten and simplify treatment.

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