Union World Conference on Lung Health: World leaders call for immediate investments to end TB

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Science Speaks is in Cape Town, South Africa this week, providing live coverage of news and events at the 46th Union World Conference on Lung Health.

CAPE TOWN, South Africa – Global and national leaders met this week at the Union World Conference on Lung Health in Cape Town to endorse the Stop TB Partnership’s new plan to end the tuberculosis epidemic by 2035. The plan calls for diagnosing and treating at least 90 percent of all people infected with tuberculosis, including 90 percent of people infected with TB from key populations, and ensuring at least 90 percent of people successfully complete treatment.

Health ministers, technical partners and parliamentarians representing, among other countries, the United Kingdom, France, India, Pakistan, and Vietnam, agreed that an immediate and large increase in investments is needed to eliminate tuberculosis as a public health threat.

The Stop TB Partnership’s global plan says aggressive investments in the immediate future with less total funding over the next five years will achieve more impact than a standard investment scenario that requires more, sustained funding over a five-year period. This is because treating more people now and preventing people from becoming ill means fewer people will fall ill in the future.  Stop TB predicts that accelerating investments now will save 10 million lives, prevent 45 million infections, and will treat 29 million people by 2020, resulting in an $85 return on investment for each dollar invested now, and $1.2 trillion in returns overall.

Along with immediate investments, the plan and its supporters call for a paradigm shift to achieve targets, particularly in eight areas, including promoting a human rights and gender-based approach to TB, developing community and patient-driven approaches, integrating health systems, and investing in socioeconomic factors to address the social determinants of TB, among others.

“TB has been persistent through history because its roots are deeply intertwined with economic and social factors,” said Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa Minister of Health and chair of the Stop TB Partnership Coordinating Board. “The management of TB is therefore a litmus test for our commitment to social equality and health for all.”

The plan calls for efforts to reach and work with people who are vulnerable, underserved and at risk of TB infection and illness, with a benchmark of success in reaching at least 90 percent of those most at risk with TB services. South Africa already has plans underway to reach this goal with a focus on mining communities where TB rates are high. The country will test current and former miners and their families and friends, as well as 90 percent of the prison population which has always been at high risk for TB. Nelson Mandela became infected with TB as a prisoner in the late 1980s.

The plan also emphasizes the need to invest in tuberculosis research and development, citing that delaying investments for new tools – like a new vaccine, rapid diagnostic tests, and drug regimens – by just one year will cause future treatment costs to increase by $1.3 billion annually.

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