Stop TB Partnership

FIGO IS STOPPING TUBERCULOSIS

An exclusive interview with Luís Figo

What inspired you to become a Goodwill Ambassador against Tuberculosis?

In my profession, like in many others, being healthy is absolutely essential. One day I stopped to think about it and realized that this should be the case for all people and all professions. Then I realized how many children—who should be out there playing and enjoying their youth—are suffering unnecessarily from tuberculosis.

There is something very unjust about this, and the thought really opened my eyes to a reality unknown to me before. I come from a modest background and yet I was able to achieve my dreams from a young age. I don’t see why others, with the much more modest ambition of leading a healthy life, should not be able to achieve their own dreams. When faced with the opportunity to become a Goodwill Ambassador against Tuberculosis, I thought this would really be my chance to do something about this injustice.

Have your professional and personal lives influenced your ambassadorship?

Most certainly yes. As a sportsman, I’m all about struggle and endurance. And no matter how long or how tough a match is, I believe in persistence and hope until the final whistle. That has always been my philosophy in life, and I find it useful against tuberculosis, too— I think we should perceive the fight against tuberculosis as a match to be won. There are no easy wins, but the more treatments we get out there, the more lives we will save. I also believe in teamwork, and there is no way we can fight this disease alone and single-handedly. We need cooperation among agencies, countries and individuals in order to spread knowledge. As a father and a husband, I could not imagine seeing my family suffer from a devastating disease like tuberculosis—and I don’t see why anyone else should either.

What is something that most people don’t know about you?

I think most people cannot picture me outside of the world of football, but apart from sport, I do have many other passions. It may seem strange to imagine someone like me dancing flamenco, but I really like it. I actually met my wife at a flamenco show, so I must have some charm when associated with it, right?! I also really enjoy painting and I collect all sorts of watches—that way I can never be accused of tardiness! Other than that, I enjoy doing things that other people enjoy—like going to the beach, the cinema and the theatre. I’m afraid there is nothing particularly shocking in that, but it is the truth!

How do you view your role as a Goodwill Ambassador against Tuberculosis and how has your experience been so far?

I have enjoyed every moment of being a Goodwill Ambassador - it has given me a different perspective on things, and I feel like we have made some real progress—we have definitely scored a goal against tuberculosis.

The Stop TB Partnership has organised a number of tuberculosis-related events, has put out a really great comic book—thanks to people’s imagination and participation all over the world—and has managed to rally a lot of support for the cause. I am really glad that I began this adventure. I have learned so much about tuberculosis, and I know that there are many others out there who, like me just a couple of years ago, don’t know about many of the issues surrounding the disease and need to be alerted about the problem.

If you were not Luís Figo the football star, who would you be?

Now that’s a tough question... who knows! Well, actually, if I had the choice of remaining within the field of sports, I would like to have been be a Formula 1 driver—that is definitely my second favourite sport. Otherwise I think I would have loved to be a doctor. After seeing so many suffering tuberculosis patients, I think that there must be nothing more rewarding than being in a position to help somebody else. I think it would be a difficult, but extremely empowering and rewarding job. I’m not sure I’d be any good at either of these though…but now that I have retired from football, maybe I should think about it!

What do you see as the greatest challenges in the fight against tuberculosis?

I am hard pushed to find something that is not challenging about tuberculosis, especially because I am not an expert. However if I had to choose, it would be the social and economic issues that surround the disease. Economic recession, poverty, poor access to health care, malnutrition, alcohol and drug abuse, overcrowded prisons and increasing immigration from countries with unsuccessful tuberculosis control really limit our ability to control the disease. These conditions facilitate the spread of disease but can’t be easily fixed.

For me the second biggest challenge lies in the high cost of treating multidrug-resistant TB. When compared to other, equally serious diseases, treating drug-sensitive tuberculosis is not as costly as it could potentially be. If we lose this advantage, the consequences, especially for the poorest segments of society, could be disastrous.

If you could change something about the way we deal with tuberculosis, what would it be?

My first priority would be to for tuberculosis to have less severe consequences for people. Short of eliminating it, I would either alleviate the suffering of children and mothers—who have crucial social roles to play—or I would eliminate co-infection with HIV/AIDS. HIV is already a human catastrophe affecting our generation and having to deal with tuberculosis on top of it really aggravates the situation.

With respect to matters that are easier to influence, what I would do is ensure that there is a coordinated, global response to tuberculosis treatment (much like there was towards smallpox, polio or guinea worm) and that there are sufficient funds to really make a difference to the global burden of disease.

How do you plan to contribute to the fight against tuberculosis?

I know that each person can do relatively little, especially because many of the circumstances surrounding tuberculosis (as I mentioned earlier) remain outside the control of a single individual. However, I also think that every little contribution helps. So I’m going to try to do my bit—I want to find new ways to try to spread the message and discover creative ways of battling the disease. I began my career when I was 11, and since that age I knew that if I put my mind to something, I would succeed. I did that with football and I don’t see why we could not do the same with tuberculosis. It is an exciting challenge for me, and I know that despite the difficulties, I have the energy (the one thing that I have never lacked!) and the enthusiasm to make a difference.