20th Union Africa Region Conference opens with international press conference

A press conference held to mark the opening day of the 20th Union Africa Region Conference in Accra, Ghana, was attended by 22 media outlets, including Associated Press, Ghana News Agency24, Al Jazeera, GTV and GBC Radio.

Addressing the conference theme of accelerating implementation through partnerships, a panel comprising of Dr Jeremiah Chakaya Muhwa, President, The International Union Against Lung Disease (The Union); Dr Paula Fujiwara, Scientific Director, The Union; Dr Muyabala Munachitombwe-Muna, President, The Union Africa Region; and Dr Frank Bonsu, Conference Chair, 20th Conference of The Union Africa Region, all discussed themes including the need for innovation to accelerate progress; driving political engagement especially in Africa; and the challenges of funding and lack of investment.

Dr Chakaya opened proceedings by explaining the significance of Africa in the momentum towards the first UN High Level Meeting on TB in 2018.

“The President of The Union is an African, the Director General of the World Health Organization is an African, the Head of the Global Fund Technical Review Panel is an African – clearly this is the time for Africa.”  

He added, “This is an important week for us. We have over 800 registered delegates from across Africa here in Accra for the 20th Conference of The Union Africa Region. Everyone here is committed to ending TB.”

Dr Fujiwara stressed the need for innovation and the development of new drugs, to accelerate the end of drug-resistant TB, including in Africa.

“In alignment with the new G20 commitment to promote research and development of new medicines to fight drug-resistant disease, The Union is creating a new model for an entirely new TB treatment regimen, aiming to cure all forms of TB, including drug-resistant TB, in one month or less.  We are also innovating ways to get the newly available treatment for drug-resistant TB to as many patients as possible – irrespective of income.

 “The message is that we (the TB community) only have two new drugs – we need to get more new meds - many, many, more - so that we can combine them. We need to further the research, not later but now.”

Dr Muna emphasised the importance of tackling stigma and discrimination, given the impact on patients and their reluctance to seek help.

He said, “TB still carries stigma.  People are afraid to come to our clinics for treatment.  We rely on the media to advocate an end to TB stigma, as we have done for HIV.

“Within the TB community, we are striving to change the language. ‘Detection of cases’ – this sounds like a policeman looking for criminals. The language counts.  We use patient-centred, patient friendly, language that is welcoming, not blaming.”

In answer to a question from the Associated Press representative who asked the panel about the level of investment in Africa – and the importance of Africa in accelerating implementation, Dr Fujiwara replied:

“Africa is The Union’s home – this is where we started. We are here in every sense – we have projects in Kenya, Zimbabwe, DRC, Benin – innovative projects that will directly affect the treatment and care of TB patients.  Our commitment to Africa is really, really strong.”

Read more about The Union’s work in Africa here

Read more about the 20th Union Africa Region Conference here