Authored by IOP Director's Intern Lauren Volpert '17.
This summer, I am interning at Treatment Action Group (TAG), an independent AIDS research and policy think tank in New York City. At TAG, I work with the TB/HIV Project team, whose main objectives are to accelerate funding and progress in R&D for better tools to prevent, diagnose, and treat TB (including TB among people living with HIV), and to encourage global leaders to improve access to high-quality TB and TB/HIV services around the world.
As the two leading infectious disease killers in the world, HIV/AIDS and TB together account for about three million deaths annually. Although the number of TB deaths is declining each year, the rate of this decline is too slow.
If the World Health Organization wishes to have any chance at achieving their goal of eliminating TB as a public health problem by 2050, then an entirely new strategy needs to be implemented in terms of drug development and access to drugs in many high-risk countries.
The vision for a TB-free world with zero deaths, disease and suffering due to TB is achievable in our lifetimes. TB is preventable and curable. However, prioritization of research and development of new tools to fight TB is essential for achieving a TB-free world.
TB diagnostic tests are slow or too complicated to be given where patients access care; the TB vaccine is only protective against some types of TB in young children; and TB treatment is lengthy (up to two years), has multiple side effects, and cannot keep pace with growing drug resistance.
Action needs to be taken – and that is what TAG advocates for! This summer one of my main projects will be to help create an activist’s guide to a drug called linezolid. Linezolid is an antibiotic that has recently started to be prescribed for off-label use to treat extensively-drug resistant TB (XDR-TB). While linezolid seems to be effective, it comes with many side effects and has not been extensively studied for TB treatment.
This means that there is little data published about linezolid’s safety, optimal dosing, and drug-to-drug interactions with other TB, HIV/AIDS, and diabetes medications. This guide will serve as a resource for activists, people with TB, clinicians, and others who want to understand linezolid’s risks and benefits, and issues around access to the drug.
I have only been at TAG for about two weeks, and in that short time I have learned so much valuable information about the worldwide TB epidemic. At TAG, there is a global approach to understanding where we are in fighting the TB epidemic and what needs to be done worldwide. Global health is a field that I became interested in after taking two freshman seminars, “Responsibility, the Brain and Behavior,” and “The Terrorist.”
While the seminars were not directly related to global health, they introduced me to a new way of thinking globally. Combining my passion for science and a newfound interest in understanding things on a global scale was a natural step forward when I began to think about working this summer. I’m so excited for the next six weeks at TAG and beyond!