RESEARCHERS at the tuberculosis (TB) conference in India have unveiled an experimental new vaccine which could protect millions of people from getting infected.

Dubbed a game-changer by the researchers, the initiative conducted by GlaxoSmithKline, gives fresh hope to the fight against TB, which remains one of the worst infectious diseases in the world.

The experimental vaccine results showed 50% protection for the candidates who took part. Studies were carried out in Kenya, South Africa and Zambia.

“We are one step closer to a vaccine for TB,” International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), scientific director Paula Fujiwara said yesterday. The Union is convener of the 50th Union World Conference on Lung Health.

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Fujiwara said a vaccine is the ultimate prevention tool and urged stakeholders to move the trial into its final phase. “We simultaneously need to be doing all we can to prevent tuberculosis with medications that we already have at our disposal.”

TB is a preventable, treatable and curable, yet last year it killed 1,5 million people. It is also estimated that a quarter of the global population has latent TB infection, of whom approximately 10% will develop active pulmonary TB disease.

Currently, multi-drug resistant strains of TB are emerging and spreading globally, and the only available TB vaccine, BCG, does not provide proven and consistent protection in adults in TB-endemic countries.

Without a more effective vaccine, it will not be possible to achieve the World Health Organisation target of decreasing the number of new cases by 90% and the number of TB deaths by 95% between 2015 and 2035. Zimbabwe is among countries with a high TB burden.

Speaking on the sidelines of the conference, The Union Zimbabwe director Christopher Zishiri said currently the country is giving the BCG vaccine to newborn children to prevent tuberculosis. “This has been ongoing for a long time. It prevents severe forms of TB such as that which affects the brain and the whole blood system in children.” Zimbabwe has done well on universal coverage of all children with BCG.