In order to train the next generation of tuberculosis (TB) specialists, Queen Mary University of London has announced the launch of the world’s first postgraduate certificate to focus exclusively on TB, which will be delivered across the world through online distance learning from September 2019.
The launch on Tuesday evening was marked by a seminar given by the University of Milan and Geneva Global Health expert and former Director of the WHO Global TB Programme, Professor Mario Raviglione, who announced his support for the new TB certificate and will be giving lectures on the course.
TB is the leading infectious disease killer and the tenth cause of death globally, affecting 10 million people a year with 1.6 million deaths. One of the WHO and TB community goals is to achieve TB elimination by 2050, defined as less than 1 case per million people per year.
Professor Raviglione said: “At the moment, our chances of reaching the 2050 TB elimination target are very low. We’re currently seeing a 1-2 per cent annual reduction of cases – at that rate, it will take us two centuries before we eliminate TB. We need to somehow reach a reduction of 15-20 per cent per year to meet the 2050 target – that’s a huge 1,000 fold reduction in cases over the next 31 years.”
The innovations and research needed to break the current trajectory of TB include better diagnostics, treatments that are safer, easier and shorter, and effective vaccines, but Professor Raviglione warned that this may still not be enough, and is calling for a multisectoral approach to end TB.
He told the audience at Queen Mary: “We need to deal with poverty and the lack of social protection - otherwise people may be unable to follow months of treatment because of medical and indirect expenditure and especially income loss. We also need to deal with food insecurity, malnutrition, inequality, discrimination, poor living conditions, overcrowding, pollution and wars – these are all contributing factors towards the disease that we’re trying to eliminate.”
To equip the next generation of health workers with the tools needed to work towards TB elimination, Professor Raviglione strongly supported the launch of the world’s first postgraduate certificate to focus exclusively on TB.
Course co-lead Dr Simon Tiberi from Queen Mary University of London and Barts Health NHS Trust said: “To date, this is the only university certificate programme out there of its kind in the fight against TB. The certificate will help professionals apply the necessary skills which are needed to contribute towards the goal of eliminating the disease within 30 years.
“What we’re aiming to do is to give a firm understanding of TB, explain what it is, how we diagnose, treat and prevent, along with modules in public health and research. Students who enrol will have a firm understanding of TB, taught by international experts in the field. We’re trying to give the students not only lots of education in TB, but also the tools they need to help them work more effectively and efficiently within the national TB programmes they’re involved in.
Professor Raviglione added: “Most TB training courses cover mainly the clinical aspects of TB to train people to recognise the disease and give proper treatment. This course is unique because, as well as the clinical modules, it includes teaching on epidemiology, control and elimination strategies, sustainable development goals, and the political aspects.
“People working in the health sector have a responsibility to understand the political landscape and advocate to the people in important positions. In my view it is absolutely essential to make sure people are trained up in these areas, and this is all covered by the course.
“By teaching TB through a global health lens, we’re providing an incredibly comprehensive course that covers every aspect of TB, and is taught by some of the best experts in world.”
The programme will be delivered via distance learning, allowing students to study at their own pace and in their own time. The course can be completed within six months, while students are working full time in their current job. It is aimed at a wide group of people working in TB, including doctors, nurses, TB programme workers, NGOs and public health workers.
The course includes 2-3 hours of video lectures a week given by various lecturers including external guests such as Professor Raviglione. There is also a weekly live video seminar where students can interact and ask questions remotely.
The online nature of the course is intended to provide accessibility for people all over the world, who will be able to complete this course from their homes, requiring no travel and providing an educational benefit at minimal cost.
Dr Tiberi added: “A particularly exciting aspect will be the group assignments. Given the online nature of the course there could be someone from China collaborating in a group with someone from India or the UK, learning how to work together to deliver projects. We hope that this could be the start of international cross collaboration which can continue long after the course ends – something which will be vital in the fight to end TB.”
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