Today, in Moscow, the first WHO Global Ministerial Conference on Ending TB began, with a large number of health ministers and other political leaders and stakeholders in attendance. This meeting in Moscow will set up the upcoming 2018 UN General Assembly high-level meeting on TB, the first such UN meeting on TB. Earlier this year, TB also featured in the G20 declaration.
A key reason for these political engagements is the grim reality that traditional approaches have not controlled TB. In 2016, there were an estimated 10.4 million new TB cases worldwide. TB continues to rank as the leading infectious killer, and 1.7 million people died from a curable infection during 2016.
While substantial progress has been made in HIV and malaria control, TB continues to suffer from neglect, under-investment, and lack of urgency. In fact, this week, the Global TB Caucus launched "The Price of a Pandemic 2017", a new report revealing the cost of the TB epidemic to the global economy. The research, commissioned by the Caucus and conducted by KPMG estimates that deaths from TB will cost the global economy nearly USD$1 trillion over the next 15 years, two-thirds of which will be in the G20.
So, unless there is serious political commitment, funding and execution, it will be impossible to meet the End TB targets. This is why the Moscow and UNGA meetings are so critical - to convince our political leaders that they need to wake up to the realities of the TB epidemic, and step up with clear actions and commitments.
At the Moscow meeting, according to the meeting organizers, there are 4 clear expectations from the health ministers and all partners:
- Speed up universal coverage of care and prevention for tuberculosis, HIV-associated TB, and MDR-TB in the context of the global agendas of antimicrobial resistance, health security, and SDGs, while ensuring that equity, ethics, and human rights are recognised as urgent concerns and are protected and promoted.
- Enable sufficient and sustained financing for the full response from strengthened domestic and external sources.
- Urgently increase coordinated investments in research and innovations.
- To drive real action built on written commitments, a multisectoral accountability framework needs to be prepared and adhered to. This framework needs to encompass all dimensions of the tuberculosis response and enable not just measuring progress towards ending tuberculosis, but also timely reviewing of results through government and civil society accountability mechanisms at national and global levels, as well as taking corrective actions.
Will our leaders step up? I am optimistic they will, because they have seen the impressive progress made in global HIV and malaria control, and have understood the human and societal benefits to tackling killer diseases such as AIDS and malaria. There is no reason why they cannot provide leadership on TB elimination.