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21 Nov 2016

Highlights from the World Conference on Lung Health, Liverpool, UK

By Associate Professor Justin Denholm, Medical Director of the Victorian Tuberculosis Program

The World Conference on Lung Health is the major annual tuberculosis conference, coordinated by the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease. This is a scientific and programmatic conference, which brings together a wide range of TB researchers, policy makers, clinicians and advocates, with this year’s theme focusing on ‘Confronting Resistance’.

This conference is also an opportunity for the global TB community to gather together, and a range of additional meetings are always planned. I met with the ‘Friends of Papua New Guinea’, who come together each year to update on the TB situation there and discuss how the international community can support continued strengthening of national efforts towards TB control – certainly the most pressing health issue facing the country and a recognised national emergency.

A substantial focus of this conference was around new regimens for shortening treatment of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. The first large cohorts of the ‘Bangladesh’ regimen (which shortens treatment from 20 months to nine) were presented, showing not only equivalence with current approaches but major improvements in treatment success.

Early reports of an equally exciting approach to shorter treatment for extensively drug-resistant TB were also presented. It's a sign of the value of these meetings that we are currently initiating the first short course MDR TB regimen here in Victoria - less than a month from international presentation to reality.

While I was there, I also had the pleasure of presenting work on gender and tuberculosis, which had been led by Katie Dale here at the Doherty Institute. International literature frequently demonstrates the significant impact of gender on access to care and treatment outcomes for TB in many settings, and it was heartening to be able to present this work highlighting how these differences are not present in Victoria.

In a related vein, I was also encouraged to note that 11 of the 19 keynote presentations were by women, including a wonderful talk from Dr Jennifer Gardy from the British Columbia CDC who just visited us here in Melbourne.

While much of the conference was a positive experience, this year it was concerning to see a noticeable reduction in attendance from my African colleagues. This was directly related to changes in UK immigration policy in recent months, with a number of researchers and clinicians denied visas to attend the conference. This unacceptable situation was the subject of much discussion with the meeting organisers, and I was pleased to see a strong protest made to the UK government about this, and additional steps being taken to ensure this is not repeated at future conferences.  

Next year’s conference will be held in Guadalajara, Mexico (11-14 October, 2017). Closer to home, the Japanese National Tuberculosis Association will be hosting the Asia-Pacific Regional conference in Tokyo (22-25 April, 2017). Both will be excellent opportunities to engage with the global TB community, and I hope that a number of you will come and join me at one next year!

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