Clinton adds his voice to call for political buy-in and action against TB at AIDS conference

Former President of the United States Bill Clinton delivered a keynote address on the final day of the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS2018) which took place in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He called for heads of state to attend the UN High-Level Meeting (HLM) on TB taking place in September, insisting on continued and increased financial commitment to both TB and HIV/AIDS.

“I am very hopeful that in a couple months the UN will hold the first HLM on TB. And I hope that Prime Minister Modi of India and other leaders will go”, he said.

“If anyone thinks that we can possibly bring the developing world to where we want it to be by abandoning the fight against HIV/AIDS and the collateral struggle against TB, you need to think again. There is no ‘Brexit’ option that does not end badly.”

President Clinton’s remarks were followed by a special session on TB and HIV in which Union board member Blessina Kumar, former board member Carol Nyirenda and Partners in Health Co-founder Dr Paul Farmer, discussed how to ‘seize the moment’ for TB with UN Special Envoy for TB, Dr Eric Goosby.

Kumar called for communities and affected populations to be at the centre of the TB response. “We need to be sure there’s access to TB medications – both current and new. The lessons learned from HIV activism need to come into the TB response”, she said, as she welcomed activists from Treatment Action Campaign to take to the floor, demanding affordable generic TB drugs.

Dr Farmer abandoned his prepared notes on diagnostics to speak instead about the issues of social justice inherent in the fight to end TB – a conversation that the TB community will continue at the Union World Conference on Lung Health in October, with a theme of ‘Declaring out Rights: Social and Political Solutions’.

“It’s important to remember that the biggest problems facing us are structural – around gender, poverty and inequality – a disregard for others for many reasons.” Dr Farmer said.

“It’s appalling that it is still possible that the leading killer of people living with HIV is TB. To turn this around requires going to meetings like this one. This is a problem of our peers thinking it is ok to set our standards low for ‘them’ – for others.” 

Demands for better access to medicines, increased funding for research and development and better integrated TB care in mainstream health systems – particularly HIV programmes – were echoed throughout the week.

In a media roundtable on TB on 25 July, The Union’s Scientific Director Dr Paula I Fujiwara and TB experts from the Stop TB Partnership, the UN, Results and Community Initiative for TB, HIV/AIDS and Malaria spoke with journalists on the five key asks for the HLM.

Dr Fujiwara summed up the demands succinctly. “What are we asking for? We have synthesised this into just 16 words to make it easy for you: treat all people with TB well, use new tools, make the investment and keep your promises.”

In TB sessions over the course of the conference, conversations focused on how to ensure those promises would translate into action and accountability. In a Union workshop in the Global Village on ‘Forging political commitment and on-the-ground action to end TB and HIV’, panellists engaged in impassioned debate about the ways forward and how to best enact change. Daily discussion sessions in The Union’s networking space included patient testimonials and experiences with stigma, exchanges on activism and how to best inspire change.

The Union also shared field experience and research with poster sessions from work in Myanmar and Zimbabwe. The Chair of The Union’s scientific working group on TB control in prisons, Dr Masoud Dara of the World Health Organization, presented the challenges and key knowledge gaps in treating this vulnerable population.

The TB community was united in their call for urgent attention, commitment and action in what could be a pivotal moment in the millennia-old fight against TB.  

Join The Union in demanding heads of state attend the UN HLM on TB in September – view our HLM toolkit and get involved.