While many will mark World TB Day this coming Sunday the 24th, it's not really a day for celebration. It's hard to celebrate something that still kills close to 1.5 million people each year in the 21st century despite the fact that everyone could have been treated and cured the vast majority of them.
Despite significant progress in the last few years which has brought rates of infection and death down, TB is getting smarter, stronger and more deadly. TB continues to take its toll on people living with HIV and drug-resistant strains of TB which are both more difficult and more expensive to treat and are becoming more common. I see World TB Day as a chance to take stock: reflect on what our advocacy and activism has accomplished in the last year and look at what we need to do over the coming year.
Last week I had the opportunity to connect with a fellow advocate in the fight against TB and he has kindly given permission for me to share some of his thoughts with you here this week.
Pervaiz Tufail first became engaged in TB work because he fought TB in the most personal sense: as a patient. Pervaiz is from Pakistan which ranks 14th highest in the world for tuberculosis cases. Only 64 percent of Pakistani TB cases are even found and treated - the rest are simply not diagnosed reached at all.
He saw so many TB patients and, as Pervaiz put it, "their miseries, pain and hopelessness." It made him want to get more people on treatment and become a voice for TB patients. World TB Day to Pervaiz is a day for optimism, if not outright celebration; he said that to him "World TB Day is a bridge between TB patients and communities and the policy makers and donors."
On this World TB Day TB advocates are urging the rest of the world to help Stop TB in our lifetimes because this is a disease we can stop. While we still need better tools like an effective vaccine, we do have drugs to treat and cure the vast majority of cases. If we put our backs into it, if we put the resources in place to find and treat each and every case, we could have a world free of TB. And the time to invest is now.
Earlier this week, the Global Fund and the World Health Organization identified the urgency of finding and treating all new cases of tuberculosis and making progress in reaching and treating the most serious existing cases. The agencies identified a US $1.6 billion gap in annual international support for the fight against tuberculosis in low and middle income countries. If the gap is filled, it could enable full treatment for 17 million TB and multidrug-resistant TB patients and save 6 million lives between 2014 and 2016. With the Global Fund responsible for about 90 percent of annual international funding for TB, fully-funding the Global Fund is critical if we hope to avert more unnecessary deaths from TB.
When I asked Pervaiz what the impact of the Global Fund is he told me about a patient suffering with untreated multi-drug resistant TB.
He (the patient) was very poor, living in a remote area and suffering with MDR TB for the last three years without any treatment. He did not have money to even travel from his place to health care services... I developed a global advocacy campaign and he was able to get admission in a MDR treatment hospital. He was provided with financial assistance, free MDR treatment and residence. His medicines were not available in Pakistan and thanks to combined community efforts, he got the medicines and he is living a happy life today. Why was it possible? - only because of Global Fund. The government hospital, the NGO and community health hospital was funded by Global Fund. If Global Fund was not there, the patient would have died.
Pervaiz is part of an exciting new effort to build a global coalition of TB advocates that the WHO's Stop TB Partnership is spearheading. The voices of those affected or infected by tuberculosis must be front and center in the conversations and decisions in how we fight to find and treat each and every sick person.
It is not acceptable that in 2013 there are still way more than one million people dying from a curable disease! This World TB Day I join Pervaiz and all those voices that I have brought to you through the Here I Am Campaign - Edward from Kenya, Oxana from Moldova, Ignatius from Uganda and so many others - in calling for a fully-funded Global Fund and a re-dedication of our efforts in the coming year to do what is needed to Stop TB in our lifetime.
Lucy Chesire: TB-HIV advocate from Kenya, Board Member of the Global Fund Board Communities Delegation
About the Here I Am campaign: The Here I Am campaign is a global call on world leaders to save millions of lives by supporting a fully funded Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Here I Am brings the voices of people that are directly affected by AIDS, TB and malaria into dialogue about decisions that affect their lives and the lives of millions of others in their countries. Through video testimonies from all over the world, campaign ambassador advocacy, online actions and on-the-ground mobilizations, the Here I Am campaign is building collective power to end three of the world's most deadly diseases. www.hereiamcampaign.org
Follow Lucy Chesire on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HereIAmCampaign