Worth the Shot: Advancing TB Vaccine Research and Development

Salwa Ahmad
Salwa Ahmad ’17, Project 55 Fellow at Aeras, Washington, DC metro area

Salwa Ahmad is from Dale City, Virginia, and is one of five children. As an undergraduate at Princeton, Salwa majored in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and pursued certificates in Global Health and Health Policy as well as Near Eastern Studies. Through her independent work, Salwa was able to intertwine her interests by investigating the health barriers Syrian refugee women faced in Jordan. During her time at Princeton, she engaged with the campus community by serving on the Student Health Advisory Board, representing the Global Health Program, and working in the Office of Religious Life.

When I first began working as the External Affairs Fellow at Aeras, I knew tuberculosis (TB) was a major global health problem, but I did not realize it was the world’s leading infectious disease killer. Now, several months later, I am still astounded at how this disease affects over ten million people and kills close to two million each year. The magnitude of this suffering and loss of life is absolutely devastating. One of the things that perturbs me the most is that this disease and all its repercussions can be prevented—if only a more effective vaccine existed.

TB is an airborne disease that can strike anyone, anywhere. Aeras propels the message that “TB anywhere is TB everywhere” because while most of us living here in the U.S. may not be directly affected, as long as the disease continues to thrive elsewhere in the world, we are all vulnerable to this global health threat.

P55 blog photo_SA
Salwa, in front of a poster at Aeras

Aeras promotes research and development (R&D) of new TB vaccines because it is the only way the disease will be eliminated. While the disease is curable, its global impact is unfathomable, so wouldn’t it be great if no one ever becomes infected with TB in the first place? This is the message I have found myself strongly supporting and working on in my Fellowship role. The External Affairs team has opened my eyes to the arduous work of communications, advocacy, and resource mobilization, all of which are necessary for R&D to succeed. I’ve had the opportunity to attend advocacy events about TB on Capitol Hill, and have heard from leaders, advocates, and survivors why tackling this disease matters so much, and why we must continue to invest in R&D for new drugs, diagnostics, and prevention tools. I’ve also gotten to contribute to communications efforts for three global conferences on TB to ensure that vaccines are prioritized in the fight to end the disease.

Throughout my time so far at Aeras, I’ve seen firsthand the interplay between science and policy/advocacy, and how important each is to achieve the other. I’ve also learned that working in this field is challenging in that the progress can be slow-moving, yet it is rewarding and worth pursuing nonetheless. Each day, I generate social media content for Aeras, and through this role I have learned a great deal about the innovative scientists and outspoken advocates striving tirelessly to tackle TB. Learning about scientific advancements and global commitments to defeat not only TB, but other diseases and health problems, has renewed my optimism and strengthened my dedication to public service. I believe that when motivated people put their minds together for the greater good, progress can be achieved for all. Even when my time at Aeras comes to an end, I hope to remain an advocate for TB R&D and vaccines, and I am excited to see all that can be accomplished in this field going forward.

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