48th Union World Conference: “I truly believe this is a remarkable opportunity for TB”

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Science Speaks covered the 48th Union World Conference on Lung Health in Guadalajara, Mexico Oct. 11-14.

United Nations 2018 High-Level Meeting on TB opens chance to turn promises, evidence into “tangible results” leaders here say

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – If you’re a TB advocate you have to be an opportunist. If anyone is ready to listen to you, you have to grasp the opportunity to explain how, while tuberculosis kills more people than any other infectious disease, as many as 4 million cases are still missed each year. It means being ready to explain why treatments, not patients, are failing, and being ready to explain why new treatments and new measures are crucial to conquering an old disease. Some of the data you have to be ready to deliver is complicated by long-standing neglect and resource gaps, with vast differences between the numbers of illnesses detected, diagnosed, reported, treated, and then recorded. Some of it is obvious, but still needs to be said, including that the people most affected by the problem need to be included in the solution. And then, against all odds, but necessarily, explaining TB means being ready to explain to policymakers why responding to all of this should be among their highest priorities.

The first United Nations High-Level Meeting to focus on tuberculosis set for the autumn of 2018 represents the  most significant opportunity to do that so far, speakers at an Oct. 12 plenary session here said.

A process that will bring at least 40 heads of state to the United Nations General Assembly for two days of meetings to endorse a commitment to concrete actions, it also provides an impetus to ensure that policy makers are educated now.

“It is time for the science to be translated to the policy makers,” United Nations Special Envoy for TB Dr. Eric Goosby said. “You need to know who the appropriators are in your legislatures.”

While a relatively small handful of countries feel the brunt of a disease that an estimated 11 million people a year fall sick with, and that kills as many as 2 million people a year, the tuberculosis disease and its impacts are felt around the world, Dr. Goosby said. “Make policy makers understand the burden of the disease in their countries.”

The jump from explaining the national to the global implications of HIV is a short one, United Nations Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia Dr. Michel Kazatchkine, who continued the theme said. “Global Health is not a separate field somewhere out there. There is no way a national strategy can be disassociated from international efforts.”

He reviewed the years since the first UN General Assembly meeting on HIV in 2000, when national leaders have gathered in General Assembly meetings to confront health challenges that included Millennial Development Goals, noncommunicable diseases, and Ebola.

“During that time, remarkable progress has been made, but progress has been unequal,” he noted. “Ebola really raised questions.” Fragmented health responses lend themselves to conflicting interests, he said. But the realities of global health also lend themselves to linked interests. A matter no longer seen as a development issue, global health is acknowledged to be a security issue as well. And prominent on economic agendas, global health is also basic to social justice and human rights agendas.

“We are in a global world,” Dr. Kazatchkine said. It is one in which governments must be accountable for national and global health concerns alike. It is a world that offers new opportunities to advocates too, he said.

“Think beyond TB and beyond health, and embrace a broad role.”

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