22 August 2016, Addis Abiba - Ministers of Health from Africa met in Addis Ababa for a special session on Tuberculosis this weekend, as part of the Regional Committee of the World Health Organization AFRO Region. Co-organized by WHO and the Stop TB Partnership, the meeting focused on unifying Ministers of Health to end TB in the Region by 2030 and ended with a call to organize a United Nations High-Level Meeting on TB.
Earlier in the day, Ministers endorsed the new ‘Framework for Implementing the End TB Strategy in the African Region (2016 - 2010)’, which will support the adaptation and implementation of the WHO End TB Strategy. They also endorsed a Statement titled 'Leave No One Behind: Uniting to End TB in the African Region', which included an endorsement of Stop TB Partnership's Global Plan to End TB, the 90-(90)-90 targets, and called for updated National TB Policies and an increase in domestic financial resources for TB efforts.
Headlining the event was Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, Chair of the Stop TB Partnership Board and Minister of Health, South Africa, who led the call for a UN High-Level Meeting on TB and presented on the larger-than-realized burden of TB in Africa and the impact it has on health systems and economies.
"There’s no doubting that TB remains the neglected child of all the major infectious diseases, and continues to remain in the shadows on the global stage", said Minister Motsoaledi. "It’s time for us to demand that TB receives the spotlight it deserves. A United Nations High-Level Meeting devoted to TB in September 2017 would be an important way to achieve this, to reframe TB from simply a technical health problem, to a global development challenge requiring a whole of society response."
Despite the high burden of TB on Africa’s health systems, governments contribute less than 19% on average to their annual TB strategic plans. Minister Motsoaledi called on his fellow Ministers of Health to advocate for greater TB funding in their countries, and engage with their Parliaments, People Affected by TB, and Ministries of Finance, citing the fact that TB has been established as one of the most cost effective investments in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Dr. Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership, described how a global coalition of governments, development partners, communities and other stakeholders must be brought together in the fight to end TB.
Speaking on the threat of drug-resistant TB, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director for WHO Africa said, "The gains made in TB control could be wiped out by the threats of microbial resistance to medicines in future. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the negative effects it had on health systems is a good basis for reflecting on the consequences of a possible outbreak of untreatable TB in the future. This must avoided by all means."
The discussion included interventions by Health Ministers from Uganda, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Lesotho and other countries. There was consensus that a working meeting needs to be held with the counterparts in Ministers of Finance on the importance of funding national TB programs. Investing in TB programs can yield $43 for each dollar invested - more than any other comparable public health program.
"As survivors we are committed to lending our voices and stories in honor of those who were not as fortunate and died needlessly", said Mr. Endalkachew Fekadu, Managing Director of Volunteer Health Services and a Person Affected by TB. "We feel it is our responsibility to show the world the human face of TB so that we all remember our fight is not only against a disease but also for the people its affects."
"Parliamentarians have a key role in leading the fight to End TB in Africa. The newly launched African TB Caucus will be a key driver in efforts to increase domestic resources for TB and I encourage Ministers of Health to reach out to their fellow Parliamentarians to support their efforts to elevate TB on the political stage. The time is now for us to join together", said the Honourable Mr. Stephen Mule, Co-Chair, Africa TB Caucus and Member of Parliament in Kenya.