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Hope and opportunity, this World TB Day

Prime Minister Narendra Modi commits to ending TB in India by 2025 (Photo: Mandy Slutsker)

By Mandy Slutsker, Policy and Advocacy Manager, ACTION

I have participated in nine World Tuberculosis (TB) Day advocacy campaigns since I joined ACTION in 2010. Over this period, advocacy groups have shared the same dark figures and told the same devastating stories leading to TB becoming the world’s leading infectious disease killer for the past three years. Every year, the number of people who got sick grew and the death toll rose. No one seemed to pay too much attention—until now.

For the first time this year, world leaders have elevated TB as a major, global public health issue. In turn, I am beginning to feel that 2018 will be a transformative year for how governments—and society—treat TB, a disease spread through the air that has a symbiotic relationship with poverty.

The feeling that progress was brewing began last November in Moscow as I listened to Russian President Vladimir Putin commit Russia to fighting TB in an address a room full of health ministers from over 70 countries at the first-ever Global Ministerial Conference on TB. Progress is catching: last week I was in Delhi where Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed his government’s support to ending TB in India by 2025–a full five years ahead of the Sustainable Development Goals’ 2030 deadline.

Getting the attention of world leaders is critical to building the political will needed to combat an ancient disease that has severe physical, social, and economic consequences for their people and their countries. Historically, politicians and policymakers have not prioritized TB. Their neglect has allowed the number of people getting TB to balloon to over 10 million each year, with 1.7 million deaths. Without significant investment in national TB programs and research and development for new tools to fight TB, the disease is estimated to cost the global economy nearly US$1 trillion by 2030. Rich and poor, South and North—all need our leaders to create the policy framework and allocate the resources needed to eliminate the disease.

Now there is an opportunity for action and commitment. On September 26, 2018, the United Nation’s will host a High-Level Meeting on TB, alongside the UN General Assembly. This will be the first time that heads of state will gather in this forum specifically to discuss and commit to fighting TB and represents an extraordinary opportunity for heads of state to make collective commitments to eliminate TB in their countries. It.

We must raise our voices

But leaders won’t act on their own. It is imperative that we use our collective voices to ensure that leaders not only attend the meeting but commit to closing the funding gaps. Without an additional $2.3 billion each year for diagnosing and treating people with TB and $1.2 billion each year for TB research and development, we will not turn the tide on TB.

In your advocacy, do not assume that leaders know the full extent of the prevalence or impact of TB in their own countries. Currently, two out of every five people with TB are either undiagnosed or unreported. That is 4.1 million cases of TB where the quality of care — if there is care at all — is simply unknown. As advocates, we must harness the increased attention and visibility on TB to educate our leaders, push them to make commitments to fight the disease, and hold them accountable for those commitments.

Please join me in this effort this World TB Day. The UN High-Level Meeting on TB has a Civil Society and Affected Communities Advisory Panel, which has launched community consultations (including surveys on target setting and human rights) to get our input on priorities for the meeting. Please participate in these consultations, and join the TB Civil Society listserv to find out more opportunities to engage.