The Director’s Corner

The Director’s Corner

As we begin this new year, we are one step closer in time to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) goal to eradicate tuberculosis (TB) by 2030 – but how much closer are we to making this a reality?

A message from José Luis Castro, Executive Director, The Union.

Despite being curable, TB remains one of the world’s most infectious – and deadly – diseases. Latest figures* show that there were 1.4 million TB deaths in 2015 and 10.4 million new cases worldwide. The rate of decline remained at only 1.5 percent – the same as in 2014.  This is not enough. To quote the WHO’s Global TB Report for 2016, “global actions and investments fall far short of those needed to end the global TB epidemic.”  This annual decline needs to accelerate to between four and five percent by 2020 – a major milestone if the ultimate strategy to end TB is to be realised. 

In the past 12 months, The Union has demonstrated that scientific evidence combined with operations work on the ground delivers real progress. The WHO endorsement for a shortened treatment regimen for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), from 24 months to just nine is transformative for public health and was made possible by the work of The Union and its partners in providing the evidence for it.  Our work on the STREAM clinical trial aims to reduce this treatment regimen further, to six months or less.  But with figures of MDR-TB incidence rising – 480,000 new cases in 2015 - we cannot afford to lose momentum. 

Tobacco use and its deadly impact on public health has entered a critical phase too.  According to a study published on 10 January by the WHO and the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) (PDF 16 MB), the number of tobacco-related deaths is projected to increase from six million deaths annually to approximately eight million by 2030, with more than 80 percent of these occurring in low- and middle-income countries.  The Union’s new Index of Tobacco Control Sustainability (PDF 733 KB) provides essential support to those countries that need to swiftly determine the impact of their own tobacco control regimes. Without effective tobacco control, the disastrous effect of tobacco on public health will fulfil the worse case predictions of the NCI/WHO report. 

In 2017, our aim is to accelerate progress toward elimination – it is the theme for the 48th Union World Conference on Lung Health in Guadalajara in October and it is a theme that will inform our work during the coming months.  That is, accelerating the creation of better conditions for health and for functioning health systems; accelerating diagnosis and detection of TB in both adults and children; accelerating access to treatment; and accelerating awareness of the need for global investment.  It is crucial that we see real impetus before time runs out. 

José Luis Castro
Executive Director
The Union

*Global Tuberculosis Report 2016 (WHO)