Turning the Tide to END TB

end TBToday’s guest blog is by Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership

Last month, the Stop TB Partnership had its first Board Meeting in Paris hosted by the French Ministry of Health following our transition out of WHO and under our new home with UNOPS.

I returned to the Secretariat in Geneva with a renewed sense of optimism and hope that I think is very good to share. The Board was spot on with regards to fulfilling its role in leading the efforts towards a world without TB.

For many years I felt that conversations around TB were not ambitious enough. This time, discussions about how to end TB dominated the conversations at the Board. It was a clear indication of a shift in the way TB was being viewed, there was a clear message – we should no longer aspire only to contain TB, we should be striving to end it.

The Global Plan 2016-2020 will lay out the investment needed for the first five years of the End TB Strategy that goes up to 2035. The Plan captures this tremendous sense of purpose and ambition that is spreading through some of the high burden countries. It presents our strongest and immediate case for how the world can change its approach to fighting TB in order to accelerate from the past decade of very slow decline it has seen.

South Africa is blessed to have its Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi (also the Chair of the Stop TB Partnership Coordinating Board). Minister Motsoaledi has been particularly inspiring by already putting his vision into action. On World TB Day this year, I was in the small mining city of Orkney in South Africa where the Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Minister Motsoaledi launched an unprecedented national effort and TB screening campaign. The more than 500,000 miners in the country and their families will be tested for the disease and if they test positive, they will be initiated on treatment. The South African government has gone a step further to extend this to the neighbouring countries of Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland where many of the miners come from. The Ministry of Health has also identified six mining communities within South Africa where intense mining activity breeds the disease. In all these districts, efforts will be intensified to screen all members of these communities as part of this programme. The same will be done for every prisoner in the country who will be screened for TB and if inmates test positive, he or she will be initiated on treatment immediately.

Unlike many other diseases, TB is an air-borne disease that knows no borders and spreads as a person with TB can infect up to 15 others every year as long as they don’t receive treatment. All over the world, advocacy and social mobilization have focussed largely on AIDS - and rightly so. However, it is a mistake to ignore TB.

TB, the disease responsible for more lives lost in the world’s history than any other, is – unfortunately -anything but a problem of the past: it is a present and future threat.

Recent figures launched by UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s Panel on Antimicrobial Resistance paint a grim picture for what could happen to the world’s economy if the problem is left unchecked: Over the next 35 years, 75 million people could lose their lives to drug-resistant TB, and by 2050, the airborne infection could cost the global economy almost US$ 17 trillion.

According to the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, economists rank TB control as the fourth most cost-effective investment for a better future. A majority of TB deaths occur among adults in their economically productive years, which can be an instigator for a family falling into poverty. Addressing TB is therefore of utmost importance, especially considering how cost effective TB interventions are.

So, if we are to change this situation for good, we need to act now and to act decisively. Now that a better world is within our grasp thanks to commitment at the highest level, and a concrete vision --let’s work on making it possible. We have to. The lives of millions are depending on us.

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The Stop TB Partnership moved its Secretariat from WHO to UNOPS (United Nations Office for Project Services, a specialized provider of administrative services) early in 2015. This came after a 3-year process of careful reflection and examination of the various issues involved, including: the ability of the Stop TB Partnership to be able to execute on its operational strategy; the impact on Secretariat staff and the advantages/disadvantages of retaining this unique multi-sectoral partnership within the UN system.

*Decision points from the 26th Coordinating Board Meeting are here. The next Stop TB Partnership Coordinating Board Meeting will be held on 29 November 2015 in Cape Town, South Africa.

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