Bringing Innovation to the Front Line of Global Health

Friday, July 10, 2015

What role does UNITAID play in fighting HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria?
LELIO MARMORA: UNITAID is in business to find smart new ways to prevent, treat and diagnose all three of these diseases more quickly, more cheaply and more effectively. Working with our partners, such as USAID and the Global Fund, we encourage them to “scale up” the use of the best game changing innovations that we can find in health programs across the globe.

How do you go about your work?
LM: We trawl through the world of innovation in universities and industry for ground-breaking drugs and diagnostic methods. And if we are persuaded they can work, UNITAID provides the capital to help test their viability and speed up their introduction, using buying power to secure price reductions, quality improvements and to build a solid base of evidence backed by data.

Is UNITAID’s approach effective?
LM: UNITAID has played a pivotal role in many of the advances over the past few years against HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. By helping to reduce costs of new better-performing health solutions we can maximize the impact of every dollar spent to improve the lives of the millions of people who are most exposed to these lethal diseases. In short, UNITAID bridges market gaps to kick-start the introduction of new, better, faster-acting and more affordable medicines, technologies and systems as quickly as possible.

What are your biggest contributions to fighting disease?
LM: UNITAID was instrumental in greatly expanding the use of the GeneXpert diagnostic technology for tuberculosis. This is speeding up detection of a disease as old as humanity itself. The launch of GeneXpert, which had originally been developed to detect anthrax in the US, is especially well-timed. The health community urgently needed improved testing capabilities following decades of neglect in development of new TB diagnostics.

Are there pros and cons to GeneXpert?
LM: GeneXpert can be used in remote health facilities to reach more people and provide results in just two hours, compared with older methods that take up to two months. Patients can then immediately start treatment, helping to halt the disease’s transmission. However, a challenge we faced early on was that the test cartridges used by GeneXpert were prohibitively expensive, contributing to doubts over its viability as a practical solution.

Source: PSI Impact (link opens in a new window)

Health Care
global health, HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis