28 May 2010 - Today marked the signing of an extension of the EXPAND-TB (Expanding Access to New Diagnostics for TB) Project, whose goal is to accelerate access to diagnosis for patients at risk of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). UNITAID funds the project, which is a collaboration between the World Health Organization (WHO), the Global Laboratory Initiative (GLI), the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) and the Stop TB Partnership's Global Drug Facility (GDF). Dr Jorge Bermudez, Executive Secretary of UNITAID; Dr Giorgio Roscigno, Chief Executive Officer of FIND; Dr Mario Raviglione, Director of the WHO Stop TB Department; and Dr Marcos Espinal, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership signed the agreement.
Together, the partners engaged in this project have as their goal making available the new diagnostic technologies and laboratory services needed to diagnose MDR-TB available, while rapidly transmitting know-how for technology transfer and ensuring new tools are properly integrated within TB control programmes.
The project's initial budget of $US 26,129,897 will be increased to US$ 87,561,982 under the new agreement. "We are happy to be increasing our funding for this important project," Dr Bermudez said. "Our aim is to create a market for diagnostic tools in developing countries and thus ensure a predictable supply and reduced prices for more countries. Effective testing is a vital element in the response to MDR-TB."
WHO-GLI is responsible fro project oversight and normative guidance, while FIND is responsible for management of the project, including assistance with the introduction of new diagnostics and their proper use. FIND also participates, with the GLI, in laboratory assessments to identify the activities required and provide long-term, on-site mentoring with support from laboratory experts. GDF coordinates and manages procurement and delivery of diagnostic equipment and supplies for recipient countries.
"We are very happy to be a part of this exciting collaboration and to expand our efforts in strengthening and scaling up laboratories. This is a crucial step towards improving endemic countries’ capacity to diagnose and manage MDR-TB," Dr Roscigno said.
According to the initial agreement in 2008, the project was slated to run until 2011 and cover 16 countries. The expanded agreement will continue through 2013 and cover a total of 27 countries.
"The signing of this agreement today is of the greatest importance. Laboratory capacity is the Achilles heel in our fight against TB and MDR-TB. The ability to diagnose patients in these 27 recipient countries is a crucial step towards meeting targets for TB treatment," Dr Raviglione said.
EXPAND-TB has full commitment by the ministries of health of the recipient countries and works on a model of best-practices, learning-by-doing, and optimizing resources for laboratory strengthening at country level.
"We are grateful to UNITAID for their continued support of this project, which represents a shining example of TB partners working together to achieve solid goals that will translate into reduced TB transmission and lives saved," Dr Espinal said.
Countries covered in the initial project were: Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Cote d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Myanmar, Lesotho, the Republic of Moldova, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Viet Nam. The agreement signed today will additionally include Cameroon, Djibouti, Kenya, Haiti, India, Peru, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania, Senegal, Swaziland and Zambia.