The Director’s Corner

The Director’s Corner

A message from José Luis Castro, Executive Director, The Union, on World TB Day

Global TB community must accelerate progress toward TB elimination.

World TB Day (24 March) is an annual reminder that tuberculosis (TB) not only still exists but remains a critical public health emergency.  It is also an opportunity to reflect on progress made, regroup our efforts and remind ourselves what we need to do to end this epidemic by 2030, as set out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) End TB Strategy.

This World TB Day, our global efforts to accelerate progress towards this goal are at a crossroads. Many of us are familiar with the statistics but allow me to underline them here: in 2015, there were 10.4 million new TB cases worldwide and 1.8 million people lost their lives to TB. In the same year, 480,000 patients developed multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) – a statistic that is predicted to rise still further.  Shockingly, TB is the world’s biggest infectious disease killer, despite being curable and treatable.

Progress is happening and there are many positives to work with. In November this year, Ministers of Health from around the world will meet at the global ministerial forum in Moscow to explore how to expedite the strategy to end TB.  In 2018, the United Nations will hold for the very first time a high-level meeting aimed at producing lasting government commitments that enable us to defeat the disease for good.   In The Union’s annual World Conference on Lung Health, happening this year in Guadalajara and traditionally attracting 4,000 participants, the theme that will be debated is how we accelerate progress toward elimination. This collective commitment to take action is encouraging – but we cannot be complacent.

Last month, the TB community was blindsided by the WHO’s omission of TB from its high priority pathogen list of deadly bacteria that urgently need new antibiotics.  This is misguided in many ways.  Not only does the omission contradict the WHO’s own figures*, particularly on the rampant increase of MDR-TB in vulnerable populations, it reduces, in the eyes of the world, the status and credibility of TB as a priority disease that needs an emergency global response.

The simple truth is that TB is a killer and those TB patients who are enduring debilitating treatments and the psychological effects of stigma, discrimination and social isolation, need to hear, loud and clear, a public health message that this will improve, that we are taking this seriously, that they take precedence. TB urgently needs new investment and funding, new ideas, resources and research. The omission from the list signals the opposite - that funding and resources would be better diverted elsewhere.   

I (along with Dr Jeremiah Chakaya Muhwa, The Union’s President) have written to the WHO demanding in the strongest possible terms that this omission be rectified without delay. We have also signed an open letter to WHO, alongside other global TB organisations. We will continue to campaign on this issue until it is addressed. 

This World TB Day, we have to raise our collective voices and make ourselves heard.  TB is a disease that should be consigned to the history books.  Putting TB on the list is a fundamental and necessary step toward making that a reality.

José Luis Castro
Executive Director
The Union

The Union continues to campaign, alongside the TB community, demanding that the WHO reverses its decision to omit TB from its priority list of bacteria for which new antibiotics are urgently needed.

To follow and support the campaign on Twitter, use hashtag #TBontheList

*All figures quoted are for 2015 which are the latest recorded data and can be accessed here: Global Tuberculosis Report 2016, pub. World Health Organization