When the Lancet Commission on Tuberculosis issued its first post-pandemic report on the global quest to end TB in September, there was just one of the paper’s 55 authors that DGHI professor Gavin Yamey wanted to talk about. And no, it wasn’t Anthony Fauci or Mark Dybul or any of the other global health luminaries on the list.
It was Armand Zimmerman, a 2020 graduate of DGHI’s Master of Science in Global Health program who now works as a research associate in the Center for Policy Impact in Global Health (CPIGH).
“If you’re wondering how Armand ended up co-authoring a paper with Tony Fauci,” says Yamey, CPIGH’s director and another of the Lancet report’s authors, “it’s because he is a genius when it comes to analyzing data.”
Zimmerman, who specializes in quantitative analysis and modeling, crunched the numbers on what countries and donor organizations are spending to combat TB, which remains the world’s deadliest infectious disease despite the availability of effective treatments. His work undergirds the report’s recommendation to ramp up funding for TB prevention and care, which in many countries fell as resources were diverted to fight COVID-19.
“We’re at a point where it’s more important than ever to regroup, reassess, and improve financing models for TB prevention and treatment,” Zimmerman says.
After decades of steady decline, deaths from TB grew slightly in recent years, from 1.4 million in 2019 to 1.6 million in 2021. The commission’s report lays much of the blame for the uptick on the COVID-19 pandemic, but Zimmerman’s analysis shows that, for many countries, both domestic and donor funding for TB has remained below pre-pandemic levels even as the COVID crisis has ebbed. He says the lingering effects of fighting the pandemic, as well as global economic woes, are continuing to put pressure on national health budgets.
But even before the pandemic, financing for TB lagged the assistance available for other infectious diseases such as AIDS and malaria relative to its impact on lives. TB kills more people globally than those two diseases combined, the report notes. Yet every $10,000 increase in donor funding per TB death could reduce mortality rates by 6 percent, Zimmerman says.
“We have the tools to combat TB. It’s just a matter of developing sustainable funding mechanisms that bring these tools to populations in need,” he says.
Zimmerman was asked to join the Lancet report by CPIGH’s long-time collaborator Open Consultants, a German global health firm that provided research support for the commission. Most of his work was with a small team who prepared parts of the report that dealt with health financing. Asked about the report’s high-profile authors, he demurs. “I wasn’t meeting with Tony Fauci on Zoom calls,” he says.
“Truthfully, I don’t ascribe too much significance to being a co-author with these big names,” says Zimmerman, who worked as a teaching assistant for Yamey while pursuing his master’s degree. “I’m just very grateful to have had the opportunity to contribute to a report that will certainly provoke lasting impact in the world.”