“World TB Day reminds me that through our individual commitments, collectively, we can eradicate TB.”

“World TB Day reminds me that through our individual commitments, collectively, we can eradicate TB.”

Dr Jeremiah Chakaya Muhwa, immediate past-President of The Union (2016-2019), remains personally dedicated to the common goal of TB elimination.

In 2018, Dr Muhwa, in his address to the high-level leadership at the first-ever United Nations (UN) High-Level Meeting (HLM) on tuberculosis (TB), called for the month of March to be known as TB Prevention Month to give advocates ample time and opportunity to leverage messages around TB.

At the same meeting, he also asked that partners from beyond the health sector take part in ending TB, emphasising that the effects of TB reach far beyond the health sector and eradicating the disease will require a coordinated multisectoral response.

The themes of coordinated advocacy, unity and personal commitment are central to Dr Muhwa’s approach and reflect his shared history with The Union since becoming a member 23 years ago.

“At the Union you will find kindred spirits with the same goals and aspirations. However, becoming a member is not so much about what you will get out of it, but much more about what you can do for the fight to end TB and lung disease. This is the primary reason many members, including me, identify with The Union.”

As a membership organisation, Dr Muhwa appreciates how The Union can connect individuals and organisations involved in TB and lung health; The Union’s large and varied membership mix means it has the unique ability to network an incredibly broad range of contributors, with the Union World Conference forming the apex of its networking function.

On the subject of the Union World Conference, Dr Muhwa is reminded of his first attendance: “It was in 2001 in Paris. I was a young scientist, eager to learn and raring to go; determined to change the TB landscape. It was also my first time in Paris and an opportunity to enjoy the allure of the city. Paris was great and the science amazing. I was immediately hooked on the Union World Conference and have maintained this devotion until today.”

Under Dr Muhwa’s presidency, the Union World Conference in The Hague crossed the 4,000-delegate marker for the very first time in its history. Of this achievement, Dr Muhwa is proud, but he also remains optimistic for the future, convinced that the Union World Conference will continue to grow. 

Dr Muhwa is a medical doctor by profession, having specialised in internal medicine and later in respiratory medicine: “TB and lung health became my preoccupation largely as a result of my training and the needs of my country, Kenya. Leading the National TB Programme (NTP) in Kenya is probably the most valuable contribution I have ever made to the field of TB and lung health.”

Through the work Dr Muhwa undertook for the NTP, he became exposed to international TB work, leading to subsequent senior engagements with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Stop TB Partnership, the Global Fund’s Technical Review Panel and, of course, The Union.

“I first became involved with The Union after I had qualified as a respiratory physician and was getting immersed in TB, both as a researcher and a clinician. In 1997, the Union Africa Region held its regional conference in Nairobi and as a young, enthusiastic pulmonologist, I was requested to sit on the local organising committee."

For Dr Muhwa, this regional conference was the beginning of an exciting journey of engagement, culminating in his recent presidency: “It was a great privilege to serve as The Union’s President. Since handing over to Professor Guy Marks last year, the demands on my time have reduced, but it has not dimmed my love and passion for The Union.” He continues to work with the Bureau, the senior leadership of The Union’s Board of Directors, and a group of people with great dedication and a vital role to form and shape the direction of the organisation.

24 March is World TB Day, one of just eight official global public health campaigns which are marked by WHO, and according to Dr Muhwa, a very important day for public education and for advocacy.

Dr Muhwa knew that when the End TB Strategy was adopted in 2015, the global health community was making commitments that would be hard to achieve: “The fight against TB is not a walk in the park; there are large mountains that need scaling. For me, World TB Day serves the purpose of allowing us to recharge our batteries for the steep ascent ahead.

“World TB Day reminds me of all the work that is still to be done in the fight to end TB. Thankfully I am still able to contribute. Every one of us participating in the war against TB needs to make a very personal commitment to continue with the battle. It is through our individual commitments that, collectively, we can hope to eradicate TB.  

“Now, with the added crisis of COVID-19, we are also reminded of the importance of our public health systems in fighting disease. I sincerely hope the global collaboration essential to beat coronavirus will extend to TB eradication as well.”

Dr Muhwa has a strong commitment to this common cause, and The Union has offered him the perfect vehicle in which to participate. Such dedication means he has a crowded but enjoyable daily routine as a manager, physician, volunteer, consultant, teacher, and researcher. But there is still time in his hectic schedule to devote to another of his great passions – dance.

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