Last month we commemorated World TB Day. Raising awareness for this global health crisis, World TB Day also marks six months since the first UN High-Level Meeting on TB, when world leaders came together to commit to ending TB once and for all.
TB kills more people each year than any other infectious disease, despite having been curable for half a century. Following years of neglect, we’re now faced with more than half a million drug-resistant cases of TB each year, which we don’t have the drugs to effectively treat. Left unaddressed, the epidemic will cost a further 28 million lives and undermine economic development by US$ 1 trillion before 2030.
Such large numbers can mask the human suffering they represent. Earlier this week, the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global TB hosted an event in parliament marking World TB Day. We were joined by Dr Emily Wise, who told us about her experience treating people with drug-resistant TB in Uzbekistan. Her account was a harrowing reminder that, as she concluded, “in this modern age, all deaths from TB boil down to a lack of commitment from the international political community and the pharmaceutical industry”.
As coordinator of the APPG on Global TB, I support a network of over 50 UK parliamentarians. who are dedicated to rectifying this sorry state of affairs. Alongside civil society groups, affected communities, and others, we worked hard to make sure that the declaration that the UK and other world leaders signed up to at the UN High-Level Meeting included concrete and time-bound commitments to scale up TB programmes and investments.
In the UK, the APPG is holding our leaders to account for delivering on the commitments laid out in that declaration. On 22 March, the All-Party Parliamentary Group published its report on TB in the England and called on the Government to provide funding for a number of key services. Shortly after, on the 27 March, MPs debated on the fight against TB in Parliament, focussing to a large extent on the sixth replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.
On the global stage, the Lancet Commission released their final report this week. Six months on from the UN High-Level Meeting, our co-chair and co-chair of the Global TB Caucus, Nick Herbert MP, joined 36 other Commissioners in setting out a roadmap for what precisely needs to be done to end TB, from ensuring a fully funded Global Fund, developing a coherent plan for TB research, through to establishing effective and independent accountability.
The Commission makes clear that a TB-free world within a generation is within reach, but only with the right commitment, leadership and resource. It is fitting then that this year’s World TB Day theme is simply “It’s Time”. Because if not now, then when?
Janika Hauser, Policy Adviser to the APPG on Global TB