Stop TB Partnership

Doing the Right Thing: Human Rights for Those Affected by TB

25 March 2015 - Geneva, Switzerland - Human rights abuses are an important factor impacting the TB crisis, and as countries mark World TB Day, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria with support from the Stop TB Partnership have chosen to highlight this topic this week.

Every year, 3.3 million people are either not diagnosed or not treated and among those missed are the most vulnerable. Addressing TB - from transmission to treatment - involves considering a wide range of human rights issues that should not be ignored.

The absence of an adequate standard of living and a lack of legal aid for people in prison fuels overcrowding and the spread of TB. Structural gaps in health systems lead to the development and then transmission of drug-resistant TB while legal and social barriers to accessing care and those who fear disclosure of their identities prevent equal treatment for vulnerable groups. These include the poor, migrants, indigenous people, drug users, and women and girls who particularly face inequalities in accessing gender-sensitive health services.

The way treatment is provided to people with TB may also unintentionally drive them away from health services. Medical detention and isolation, when used without first trying less restrictive measures, can endanger the privacy of patients and undermine the trust between communities and health care workers.

The Global Fund Human Rights Reference Group is holding its annual retreat this week and welcomes four new members including Timur Abdullaev from Uzbekistan, who is a human rights expert and a member of the Stop TB Partnership Coordinating Board. The group advices the Global Fund on all matters relating to human rights and HIV, TB and malaria.

"We are pushing hard for a "paradigm shift" away from solely top-down approaches that treat communities vulnerable to the disease. The Global Fund and partners are focusing on a right-to-health approach that places the people who use these services at the centre by giving them a voice to ensure that health services are designed in a way that is accessible to them," said Timur Abdullaev. "One of the saddest stories I heard recently was of a man who died because his right to treatment was not observed - he wasn’t even a prisoner or a migrant, just a family man in his 30s who was denied "state-guaranteed" treatment. This would not have happened if he had community support and access to non-medical services, such as legal aid. We have to remember that a TB response will only be effective when it is comprehensive and is based on human rights."

"For me, it is unacceptable in the year 2015 to have people facing human rights abuse because of TB - forced treatment, detention, expulsion and social marginalization. I feel responsible for not raising our voice loud enough in order to address the issues of TB and human rights at a different level," said Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership. "We are grateful for the efforts that the Global Fund is making in supporting human rights and the Funding Model gives everyone opportunities to do it right. My question is: do we want to do it right?"

"Diseases have a way of thriving on the fringes of society, where people are isolated, stigmatised and denied their human rights, said Mark Dybul, the head of the Global Fund. "TB is no exception. To end the epidemic, we must include and embrace those most vulnerable to TB."

More information: The Global Fund’s Human Rights Information Note for HIV, TB, malaria and HSS grants outlines what the Global Fund will finance to address human rights in the content of the three diseases.