Is tuberculosis still around today?
Yes. Tuberculosis (TB) is curable, but not cured, today. Though we often think of TB as an “old-fashioned” disease, the WHO [World Health Organization] reports that TB kills 1.5 million people each year. This makes TB the leading cause of infectious disease death worldwide, and the 13th-leading cause of death globally. Unlike in the 18th century, however, TB is now curable.
If TB is curable, why are people still affected today?
Tuberculosis disproportionately affects lower-income and marginalized communities. Though TB is now treatable with antibiotics, many low- and middle-income countries cannot afford the treatments needed to cure TB. In 2012, the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] approved bedaquiline, a life-saving, oral treatment for drug-resistant TB produced by Johnson & Johnson. In July of 2023, Johnson & Johnson’s patent on bedaquiline was set to expire. However, through a technically legal process called
“evergreening,” Johnson & Johnson extended their patent, maintaining their right to sell the drug in many countries. This means cheaper, generic versions of the drug cannot be sold at a more affordable price in those countries. As of now, Johnson & Johnson has extended their patent in 34 of the 49 countries most affected by TB.
What is being done to decrease TB deaths in the 21st century?
Following public outcry and an online campaign (led by author and educational video creator John Green), Johnson & Johnson announced a deal with the Stop TB Partnership/Global Drug Facility that allows GDF to supply generic versions of bedaquiline in 44 countries where they would otherwise not be able to. As of now, activists hope Johnson & Johnson will publicly pledge not to extend their patent again, and that their partnership with the Global Drug Facility is long-term. Alongside the Stop TB Partnership, other organizations such as Doctors Without Borders and Partners In Health continue to work toward greater access to TB medication worldwide.
Stop TB Partnership: https://www.stoptb.org/
Partners in Health: https://www.pih.org/programs/tuberculosis
Doctors Without Borders: https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/medical-
Watch John Green’s YouTube video that kickstarted the online campaign:
Barely Contained Rage: An Open Letter to Johnson & Johnson (channel name: vlogbrothers)
Follow the ongoing public pressure campaign against Johnson & Johnson’s patent by searching the
Twitter hashtag #patientsnotpatents