At MDR-TB summit's end, expressions of frustration

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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.

The Pacific Health Summit ended today with expressions of frustration from both activists and global leaders in the world’s lack of progress against tuberculosis — especially controlling drug-resistant strains of TB.

Some also wished for more urgency in the discussions at the summit, titled MDR-TB: Overcoming Global Resistance.

Paula Akugizibwe of the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa

Paula Akugizibwe of the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa

The summit’s stated goal is to connect science, industry and policy, and in the two days of meetings, much emphasis was placed on building partnerships among industry and other players in the fight against TB, which kills an estimated 2 million people each year. That led to some dry sessions disconnected to the emergency of fighting MDR-TB and the more dangerous extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) in the field, activists said today.

“ We need to get serious. We are losing this battle,’’ said Paula Akugizibwe, regional treatment advocacy coordinator at AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa. “We are talking about building glossy layers upon crumbling foundations. We need to take our best practices, take them off power points, and put them in practice. But we don’t do that on TB.’’

Akugizibwe, one of the featured speakers at the summit’s final luncheon, said she was disappointed that few talked about the daily toll of TB. “I’m not sure what the point of all of this is,’’ she said. “I’m not going to be back to one of these shindigs any time in the future until something is done about’’ improving practices in order to save lives.

No one offered a rebuttal to Azugizbwe’s depiction of the dire straits in hospitals and communities in the regions heavily affected by TB, and notably HIV-TB co-infection. Several offered supporting comments.

At the closing session at the Pacific Health Summit, from left, Armin Fidler from the World Bank; Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization; Sally Davies of the UK Department of Health and National Health Service; and Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

At the closing session at the Pacific Health Summit, from left, Armin Fidler from the World Bank; Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization; Sally Davies of the UK Department of Health and National Health Service; and Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

Only an hour earlier, two top global health officials also decried the lack of progress.

“We need money, we need people, (and) we don’t have a strategy,’’ said World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan. “We have not learned from the AIDS movement. It is a lone disease. You cannot get politicians excited about it. Often time you go to these meetings, you see the same people.’’

She added, “We will be prepared to work for you. Learn from the HIV/AIDS movement, learn how to dovetail with its successes.’’

Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, noted that his organization funds the MDR-TB treatment of 25,000 people – roughly half of all those on treatment. And yet, he said, an estimated 500,000 people are infected with MDR-TB each year. Some estimate that overall 2 million people are now infected with MDR-TB.

Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, right, speaks with Thelma Tupasi, founder of the Tropical Diseases Foundation in the Philippines.

Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, right, speaks with Thelma Tupasi, founder of the Tropical Diseases Foundation in the Philippines.

“I remain concerned about us lagging behind,’’ he told the closing plenary session. “I worry about the lives that will not be saved. I worry about us being really late to the challenge of MDR-TB. I really wish summits like this, where every aspect of the collective leadership in the fight against the epidemic, puts its act together for strong, strong advocacy for resources. I am very, very concerned about the resources we will be having in the near future.’’

Akugizibwe, the South African activist, said participants at such meetings should remind themselves about all the TB deaths, an estimated 5,000 a day.

“These are not just figures,’’ she said. “These are people with families, these are 2 million deaths that leave shattered lives behind.’’

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