Conferences. You sit in stuffy rooms fighting jet lag wondering if you are wasting your time. It can be tiresome, boring, and frustrating. Except sometimes it isn't. Last week I attended the Union Lung Conference in Kuala Lumpur -- and it was extraordinary.
Why? The TB Posse.
In July at the International AIDS conference in Washington DC, tuberculosis (TB) activists from ACTION partners and other allies from around the world gathered to shine a light on TB-HIV co-infection, highlighting TB's most shameful claim to fame -- it's the leading killer of those living with HIV/AIDS and one of the leading global killers of women.
Our ACTION partners from around the world were everywhere at AIDS 2012 talking about TB-HIV, we pulled out all the stops and at the end of the week one participant spotted us at the final plenary and exclaimed, "Ah, the TB posse is here again!"
But the TB posse has been around for decades. It's the tireless grassroots, clinicians, researchers, politicians, statisticians, bureaucrats and other policy experts and activists that have been speaking out, putting money in budgets, and shining a light on the need to do more on this global scourge. At AIDS 2012 even Whoopi Goldberg rocked the TB posse!
Though many have worked tirelessly for years, sometimes in a movement you hit a spot where things suddenly accelerate. And for the TB posse, that moment is now.
Anger and frustration over underfunding, a lack of political will, the invisibility of children and women, and the sidelining of those who have been affected firsthand by TB, has hit a critical point. This frustration spilled over in the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center, where civil society representatives from around the world literally protested on the escalators and in the conference rooms -- making the unequivocal call for ZERO TB DEATHS loud and clear.
Civil society presented a formal declaration spelling out our values, goals, and demands. Many noted that it's the first time so many voices have united in such a concrete and unequivocally loud way.
And it's probably uncomfortable for some. This isn't how these conferences usually go.
I spoke to someone on the last day who told me that he wasn't sure we could do it. He wasn't sure we could get to zero deaths. He thought perhaps we should set more "realistic" targets so we won't fail. I asked him if he had every gotten anything ambitious that he hadn't actually worked for -- that he hadn't actually fought for.
"I'm behind you," he said quietly. "I want this too."
Read -- and sign onto -- the full Kuala Lumpur Civil Society Declaration at www.action.org.
Kolleen Bouchane is the director of ACTION, a global partnership of advocacy organizations working to influence policy and mobilize resources to fight diseases of poverty and improve equitable access to health services. ACTION's current focus issues are tuberculosis (TB) - the leading killer of people with HIV/AIDS -- and increasing equitable access to childhood vaccines.