At the United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on tuberculosis world leaders approved a political declaration “reaffirming their collective commitment” to end the infectious disease by 2030. In a move recognised by WHO, Member States committed to “urgently strengthen measures” to reduce deaths, continue support for the WHO Multisectoral Accountability Framework for tuberculosis, and implement national plans or strategies with “multisectoral approaches”. At the summit, calls for a new, improved vaccine were also heard.
They put a man on the moon
Dennis Francis, President of the General Assembly, opened the meeting with a comment on the lack of success against the disease:
“Why, after all the progress we have made – from sending a man to the moon to bringing the world to our fingertips – have we been unable to defeat a preventable but curable disease that kills over 4,400 people a day?”
Breaking into a chant of “end TB”, he called upon stakeholders to accelerate innovation towards a suitable vaccine. The importance of vaccine development was emphasised by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, who recalled that the only licensed vaccine was developed over a century ago.
“We have an opportunity that no generation in the history of humanity has had: the opportunity to write the final chapter in the story of TB.”
Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General, suggested that armed conflict, economic upheavals, and climate disasters facilitate the spread of infectious diseases by creating a “breeding ground” and following a vicious cycle that perpetuates inequality. She urged Member States to prioritise the disease in their national agendas, reflecting on the sad death of her own father to tuberculosis.
“What we need is a vaccine. Let’s end tuberculosis now. It’s possible.”
Paula Narváez, President of the Economic and Social Council, demanded “strong political commitment to the very highest levels”. She observed that the high-level meetings on health during the week demonstrated the links between universal health, pandemic preparedness, and ending tuberculosis. She highlighted the Council’s important role in these challenges.
A powerful perspective was presented by tuberculosis survivor and author of Stigmatised: A Mongolian Girl’s Journey from Stigma & Illness to Empowerment, Handaa Enkh-Amgalan. She repeated the words of her doctor when she was diagnosed with the disease 12 years ago: “do not tell anyone”. She stated that “stigma costs lives”, drawing attention to the role of social expectations, particularly of women and girls, in delaying detection and treatment. She called on world leaders to prioritise the provision of support to affected populations to reduce this stigma.
WHO weighs in
In a release from WHO the magnitude of our current position was highlighted by the Director General.
“For millennia, our ancestors have suffered and died with tuberculosis, without knowing what it was, what caused it, or how to stop it. Today, we have knowledge and tools they could only have dreamed of. The political declaration countries approved today, and the new targets they have set, are a commitment to use those tools, and develop new ones, to write the final chapter in the story of TB.”
So, what are the targets set and tools available? WHO states that, although global efforts have saved “over 75 million lives”, we have fallen short of targets already. This is largely due to the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The new targets include reaching 90% of people with TB prevention and care services, using a WHO-recommended rapid test as a first diagnostic method, providing social benefit packages to all people with TB, licensing at least one new vaccine, and closing funding gaps by 2027.
Dr Tereza Kaseva, Director of the WHO Global TB Programme, hopes the opportunity to unite on the response will “accelerate action and strengthen health systems” for TB and “broader health and well-being” concerns.
“Averting TB-related financial hardship and preventing the development of the disease in vulnerable groups will help diminish inequities within and between countries.”
Vaccine Accelerator Council
In January 2023, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced plans to establish a “TB Vaccine Accelerator Council” to facilitate the “development, testing, authorisation, and use” of new TB vaccines. The Council convened for an establishment meeting on 20th September 2023. The Council is supported by the WHO secretariat, with subsidiary bodies to support its engagement and interaction with sectors and stakeholders.
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