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It’s time to take the threat of TB seriously

Lucica Ditiu

Executive Director of Stop TB Partnership

Tuberculosis – a serious global health security threat in 2019. But it will be prevented and ended, says Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of Stop TB Partnership.

The mycobacterium tuberculosis was ‘presented’ to the world 137 years ago, by Robert Koch on 24th March – when he announced the discovery of the bacillus in Berlin. For 137 years humanity has tried to eliminate TB. However, rather than achieving it, we are faced now with a shocking situation. 

Today, TB is responsible for the death of more people than any other infectious disease and is the main cause of death in people living with HIV/AIDS. Add to this the airborne aspect of the disease, the existence of drug-resistant tuberculosis and the fact that any single person who is sick with the disease and not diagnosed and treated can infect up to 15 other individuals – and we have the perfect global health security threat. 

“Any person who has TB and is not treated can infect up to 15 other individuals.”

It took 136 years for us to take TB seriously

It took us 136 years to have the first United Nations General Assembly discussing tuberculosis. Millions and millions of lives were lost due to this disease. The response against it, people that were affected by this disease, their families and those that fight against TB in their day to day work captured the attention of the highest decision makers in countries – Heads of states and governments – who decided to take TB very seriously.

Last September, we had the first UNHLM meeting on TB. And we have now a very strong UN Political Declaration in which leaders of all member states agreed to ambitious targets on finding, diagnosing and treating all children and adults with TB. The declaration includes targets on prevention, promoting a TB response that is centered on human rights, gender and equity, a three-times increase in the funding for TB research and development of new tools, as well as doubling the funding needed for scale-up of coverage with quality-assured and accessible TB services for all. These leaders have committed to be held accountable if these targets are not achieved.

The message for 2019: it’s TIME to deliver on the UNHLM TB commitments and fund the TB response!

We waited for too long to have TB recognised as a global emergency and health threat. We waited for too long to have ambitious asks and commitments to end TB. Too much time passed without having the people affected by TB, communities and civil society at the center of the TB response. 

Now that we have all these and an inroad to make TB a disease of the past, we are more united and committed than ever to make things happen – and to ensure that everyone responsible and engaged is accountable for action and impact. Nothing will be possible without commitment and without funding. 

To dramatically increase the coverage with quality-assured diagnosis and treatment for persons infected or sick with TB and secure access to everyone and to push for the development and roll-out of new tools, we will need an unprecedented level of funding in TB.  Every year, between now and end of 2022, we will need $6.5-7 billion in additional funding. This is the gap we must close if we are to take TB seriously as a global health threat. We owe it to all the millions that died of TB who we could have saved. We owe it to us. IT’S TIME!

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