Communities of practice
TB conference aim was to “connect science, industry and policy”
26 Jun 2009
An international conference held in Seattle, USA, has focused on multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). The event brought together senior figures in health to discuss this major threat to global health, but some delegates claimed that the discussions had no practical outcome. The organizers countered that the meeting had facilitated the engagement of industry and that this would lead to major benefits.
The annual Pacific Heath Summit says its mission is to “To connect science, industry, and policy for a healthier world through effective utilization of scientific advances combined with appropriate policy”. A different theme is chosen each year; this time it was “MDR-TB: Overcoming Global Resistance”. Sponsors of the event included the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust. The list of participants at the three-day meeting included the heads of WHO and UNICEF and senior officials from the World Bank.
Two companies chose the conference as a time to announce new TB initiatives.
Also during the conference, sanofi-aventis announced a donation of one million doses of H1N1 flu virus vaccine to developing countries.
Access to treatment, service delivery, lab capacity and the resources required were amongst the topics addressed during the summit. However, the meeting ended with expressions of frustration, from both activists and global leaders, over the world’s lack of progress against tuberculosis, especially the control drug-resistant strains.
Some delegates expressed doubts as to whether yet another expensive conference focusing on a disease of poverty was really justified. According to the Seattle Times, Paula Akugizibwe, regional treatment advocacy coordinator for the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa told the meeting that, “The gap between rhetoric and reality grows bigger and bigger. We are sitting in fancy hotels, and people are dying”. She said she would not attend any more conference like this one, in order to hear the same people saying the same things.
The meeting was also criticised for focusing too much on technology, and for the restricted access allowed to journalists.
Answering the critics, the summit organizers stressed the importance of engaging industry – a key aim of the meeting, which was attended by the chief executive officers (CEOs) of several major companies. A statement said: “As new contacts and frank discussions among leaders and key stakeholders evolve, we’ll see vital collaboration and fruitful partnerships emerge, bringing important progress and viable solutions.”
According to Michael Birt, executive director of the Pacific Health Summit: “The summit successfully brought together key figures across all sectors to respond to one of the world’s greatest health threats. The summit’s inclusion of industry leaders injected a fresh perspective into discussions. The participation of these CEOs and other executives facilitated on- and offline discussions about how to find viable solutions and map strategies for effective uptake of proven innovations across the globe”.
As an example of the networking and practical outcomes that can result from such conferences, the summit organizers cite the experience of Vladimir Troitskiy, head of the medical department of Russia’s Federal Penitentiary System, who told delegates that Russia was making inroads in fighting MDR-TB, but needed help. (The country has 860,000 prisoners, and 42,000 have tuberculosis. Of those with TB, 7,000 have MDR-TB.) It is understood that, during the event, he made progress towards establishing partnerships and attracting some of the help he has been seeking.
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