In 2017, Unite to End TB must be more than just a slogan!
26 January 2017 - Geneva, Switzerland - We are already a month into 2017, a year that will be very important for all of us working in TB or being affected by the disease.
We should feel energized and full of hope as we are now at a very different point from where we were ten or even five years ago in terms of the global response and attention to TB. TB is now recognized as a public health threat and much more visible in the global and regional health and socio-economic agenda. Throughout 2017 we have a lot of unprecedented moments to look forward to with several Regional Ministerial meetings, culminating with the Global Ministerial Conference on TB in November in Moscow, Russia, and looking ahead to the UN High Level Meeting on TB next year at the UN General Assembly.
This has all been made possible due to the hard work of every single one of us, every single partner over the last years. I am especially grateful to our Board members and Board Leadership as we are moving the response to TB into another league, on a par with other critical global and health issues such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, poverty, nutrition and innovative financing. Debating TB belongs as much in the UN General Assembly as it belongs in scientific conferences. With all that said, I feel that we must be very vigilant and focused.
We need to approach these opportunities with unified thinking and actions. And we should be mindful that the real work and efforts to end TB are taking place at the community level, in every little village and neighborhood.
For the remaining 11 months of 2017, I would like to highlight three challenge areas that we must get right.
1. We must ensure that the funding already available or just announced from the Global Fund and other donors will be wisely spent. We need the resources to find every single person affected by TB, diagnose and provide the right treatment and care. We need the resources to change the way we work in TB for much too long. What little we have for TB needs to be sustained and every dollar needs to be accounted for. Political sustainability is the basis for financial sustainability, as we all know. But sustaining the billions needed requires, in the first place, results. We need to be able to demonstrate that the money available now produces results in terms of saving lives, both in terms of preventing TB cases, and keeping people alive and well. This should be at the center of our work in 2017.
2. Sustaining political commitment also means that there is a never-ending need for advocacy and activism with the same messages and in the same direction. As an example, World TB Day 2017 continues under the broad umbrella of Unite to End TB. We will try to have an even bigger coverage and, though our special campaign we will try to bring TB closer to the understanding of people and have some great messages for the high level decision makers. Watch this space as some great events are planned globally! Country level advocacy is essential in order to bring attention to the disease to the level of heads of states and governments.
3. We are working to ensure that we have the highest level dialogue and engagement during the important moments happening this year, such as the South East Asian Regional High Level Meeting in March, and culminating with the Russian High Level Ministerial Meeting in November. The Stop TB Partnership will focus additional efforts on expanding our engagement with our partners and further engaging with non-traditional sectors that have not previously been as involved. These includes Ministers of Finance, Development, other technical agencies and global institutions, UN development organizations with a vested interest in how TB can affect their issues at play, be it in migration, nutrition, poverty, and others.
We need to be mindful of the increasing commitment of *BRICS countries towards ending TB: South Africa continues to lead and implement innovative interventions and the roll out of new tools towards a country without TB. India is making amazing and strong steps towards a TB-free India with Prime Minister Modi leading TB discussions. Russia is galvanizing global TB efforts in preparing for the high Level Ministerial meeting. China is achieving great results and impact in the roll out of TB programmes, Brazil is pushing social protection boundaries in an innovative manner. However, I think we should look in 2017 at the work that is and will be done in Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Cambodia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and many others and we will soon get much hope that we will end TB. Through our work we will make sure we will bring to light and to your attention all the achievements and challenges encountered at the country level in fighting TB.
Addressing TB in the long term requires most of the best brains and hearts, most of the creative entrepreneurs and most of determined leaders. However, the TB community has not been very good at coming together in joint efforts. There is still a wastage of energy because of rivalries, isolated initiatives, and divergent agendas of partners.
My call this year is that we understand that ‘Unite to End TB’ is simply not just another slogan, but a plea to the world to truly unite if we are to end the TB epidemic.
*The BRICS countries (Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, China and South Africa), which collectively account for about 50% of the world's TB cases. (WHO Global TB Report 2016: p3)