The Director’s Corner

The Director’s Corner

The Union North America Region Conference… Enabling global conversations on lung health

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

Between 22-25 February, the 21st Annual Conference of The Union North America Region (NAR) assembled in Vancouver, Canada. Hosted by Union Organisational Member, British Columbia Lung Association, this event convened to discuss the umbrella theme of ‘End TB 2017’ and brought together colleagues, members and partners to share the latest clinical, scientific and programmatic advances in tuberculosis (TB).

The Union’s regional conferences are more relevant than ever before, a critical opportunity for thousands of participants to coordinate responses to existing – and new – challenges in global lung health. I was heartened to see so many diverse stakeholders and influencers sharing their expertise on how to strengthen our response to issues including drug resistance, treatment access and the impact of global migration, immigration and civil upheaval. There was also news of positive developments such as new technologies and how they can enable us to find and treat the remotest communities.

I particularly want to reference the conference’s keynote speakers – Professor Madhukar Pai, from McGill University, Montreal, who delivered this year’s George Comstock lecture, and Stephen Lewis who spoke in his unique stirring style in the ‘Beyond TB’ lecture.

Prof Pai’s presentation - Putting quality on the tuberculosis agenda - was pivotal in its call to our community to think beyond merely increasing the coverage of TB services and focus additionally on the quality of those services. Using India as a case study, Prof Pai argued that after direct intervention in private sector services, quality of care improved, with dramatic increases in case notifications. This lecture struck a chord with me because it amplified one of the most important issues facing patient care – that of how quality must be the cornerstone of any successful end TB strategy. It is quality healthcare that will address issues of drug resistant TB and find and treat cases of latent TB. Quantity indicators on their own will not have the desired impact and, without quality as a major part of the equation, practical strategies to eliminate TB will be hampered, possibly made permanently ineffective.

Stephen Lewis always presents the case for TB passionately and he did not disappoint. Mr Lewis examined the current state of the TB epidemic, drawing comparisons with the HIV/AIDS pandemic and predicted what the future of global public health might be in the era of Donald Trump as US President. We need advocates like Stephen Lewis, he reminds us that speaking up for TB – an often forgotten epidemic – is something we must all do at every opportunity. Despite so many new and promising initiatives, we are still seeing slow progress in tackling and eradicating TB. As he pointed out, ‘two million lives and counting…when and how does it end?’

I hope that The Union’s regional conferences continue to be an essential platform for raising issues such as these and connecting the science community with broader networks and audiences. The lung health community is a substantial one. It is a place where we all have a role to play, for Ministers of Health, parliamentarians, national TB managers, scientists, clinicians, health systems practitioners, civil society and patient groups. Our conferences are forums that bring together these groups and enable the discussion of issues; informing government policies and agendas. These are platforms that are both locally relevant and yet a major force in global conversations about lung diseases and, by extension, public health.

Our regional conferences are what make The Union unique and truly impactful. Thank you to everyone who attended, inputted and collaborated in Vancouver.


José Luis Castro
Executive Director
The Union