Despite the fact that it is both preventable AND curable, a recent report from the World Health Organization estimates that 1.3 million people died in 2012 from tuberculosis. Nearly 9 million (8.7 million to be precise) had TB in 2012 but 3 million of them were never reached with quality treatment or care.
I remember, about a decade ago, when I was one of these statistics: I fought and beat TB and ever since, have been an advocate, campaigning for TB to be a matter of urgency. To fight and eradicate this airborne disease that knows no borders we need to invest in treatment and ensure that it reaches all those who are infected because otherwise, we will not be able to break the back of this epidemic.
This week, TB advocates from all around the world including Lucica Ditiu (the Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership based in Geneva) are gathering in Paris at the 44th World Conference. As we get closer to the Global Fund Pledging Conference which will take place in Washington, DC on December 3rd the critical role the Global Fund plays in fighting TB - recent results indicate it has helped provide treatment to 11 million people and is responsible for three-quarters of all international financing for TB - will be top of mind for advocates and others at the TB conference.
I had the chance to connect with Lucica this week to ask her a few questions about the recent report and how important the upcoming Global Fund Pledging conference is in the fight against TB. (interview begins after the feature video)
Interview with Lucica Ditiu, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership
This year's World Health Organization report on TB highlights a number of critical issues - perhaps most importantly that we are not finding and treating everyone who gets ill with this airborne deadly disease? Can you elaborate a little on why we need to reach them and how we can go about doing that?
The sad reality is that indeed, last year 3 million people with TB--a third of the people who got sick with the disease--were missed by health systems and therefore probably not diagnosed or treated. What is even worse is that this isn't new, it's been the case for the past seven years - consistently missing three million people. These cases are among the most vulnerable and poor, people that have difficulties accessing health care and for whom we do very little in terms of finding them and proving them with treatment. I believe that no-one should be left behind in the fight against TB, so we need to urgently change our approaches, be active in finding cases and scale up efforts to find and treat these missing 3 million.
Time limited projects such as those supported by the Stop TB Partnership's TB REACH initiative are important here as they are developing innovative new ways to find those who are not picked up by current systems. But we now need to go one step further and scale up these projects and approaches through the Global Fund.
In the next 6 weeks, world leaders will gather to discuss replenishing the Global Fund. The WHO report highlights the Global Fund as an important partner in the fight against TB - just how critical is it for the Global Fund to be fully funded to the tune of 15 billion dollars to fight TB?
The Global Fund is essential in TB. Let me be even clearer - nothing will move at the country level without the Global Fund, which provides more than 80% of international financing for the fight against TB.
So it's not just important that it is fully funded, it is essential.
If the Global Fund doesn't reach its target, the fragile progress that we have seen in TB over the past ten years will be eroded and we will never reach the three million, stop the spread of drug-resistant TB or save lives.
A few months ago I spoke at the launch of a report on the Cost of Inaction - which makes the case for fully-funding the Global Fund. The STOP TB Partnership provided technical advice and information for the writing of that report whose main conclusion is that the time to act is now. With competing priorities and economies still recovering, do we have time to wait until economic times are better to fight TB?
Absolutely not. TB is a global problem and because it is spread through the air we are all at risk. If we continue to fight TB at the current pace, decreasing the number of cases by only 2% a year, we will not be rid of the disease as a public health problem until 2170 at the earliest. I am ashamed to say this. We cannot afford to wait that long.
People's lives are at stake and every year the TB epidemic costs countries around the world at least US $13 billion in lost productivity alone. The UN High-level Panel on the post-2015 Development Goals estimated that every dollar spent fighting TB yields a 30 dollar return, more than investments in any other disease. We need to make these investments now, before it is too late and before drug-resistance takes hold and the cost of tackling TB increases exponentially.
Lucy Chesire: TB-HIV advocate from Kenya and 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