This live blog is from the Pacific Health Summit in Seattle, a three-day meeting that opened Tuesday night. Its focus is the global response to multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.
At one session at the Pacific Health Summit today, Dr. Mphu Ramatlapeng, Lesotho’s minister of health, told delegates that the best way for developing countries to fight TB is foremost for governments to take the lead.
“Our success is due to political will,’’ said Ramatlapeng, whose mountainous country is surrounded by South Africa. “It took time to explain to the politicians (about the dangers of TB and HIV/TB co-infection), and when it was clear to them that TB is not a joke, we made it a national priority.’’
In Lesotho, HIV prevalence is roughly 25 percent among 15 to 49 year olds. Of those infected with HIV or AIDS, an estimated 70 to 80 percent are co-infected with TB. In the last 18 months, Ramatlapeng has directed an aggressive national response to TB, especially multidrug-resistant TB. It included selecting and renovating a hospital just for MDR-TB patients; renovating and upgrading laboratory facilities to increase diagnostic tools; and training several thousand community health workers who identify possible cases of TB.
She said partners made this possible. Among them: Partners In Health; Foundation for Innovative Diagnostics; and the Clinton Foundation.
At first, she said partners believed that they could easily set up a system in Lesotho, based on the country’s relatively small size and small population, 1.8 million people. She talked about how she helped Paul Farmer – a founder of Partners In Health who now is being considered by the Obama administration to fill a new position that would oversee US global health programs – travel to a remote location in Lesotho in the middle of winter.
“We left him in the mountains,’’ she said. “And lo and behold there was a snowstorm. He now has a lot of respect for Lesotho. It may be small, but the reality of Lesotho is that the terrain is so difficult to navigate.’’
Later, asked by the moderator to comment, Farmer underscored the minister’s comments about the need for governments to lead the process. “ This needs to be done through the public sector,’’ he said. “It’s a hard lesson for NGO partners to learn, but it’s essential.’’