After six years, my mandate as Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Stop Tuberculosis has come to an end.
I remember well the day when, in the spring 2006, former Secretary-General Kofi Annan contacted me to explore my interest in joining the fight against tuberculosis. Because my father was a medical doctor who worked extensively on designing Portugal’s public health system, I had been familiar with health issues, including tuberculosis, since my youth.
However, like many other people, I did not perceive the real magnitude of this epidemic in our times. As I learned about the damaging impact of tuberculosis on millions of people all over the world and its massive death toll, I grew passionate and determined to contribute to saving lives and preventing suffering.
During my years as Special Envoy I have issued a call to action to many dignitaries from all over the world. I conveyed messages inspired by the hope for a better future, which I have seen in the eyes of tuberculosis patients in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and in Tallinn, Estonia; by the dedication of the community workers I met at health centers in Jakarta, Indonesia and in Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; by the motivation of young adults playing football while learning about tuberculosis in Matahare, Kenya; and by the enthusiasm of the many resourceful campaigners I have met.
I have reminded all those dignitaries that it is unacceptable for so many people to suffer and die from a preventable and curable disease. I have urged them to take concrete steps in the fight against tuberculosis by ensuring access to care, providing adequate funding, and empowering communities.
Yet much remains to be done, and I am confident that progress will move rapidly in the years to come, especially now that I see for the first time in decades new powerful diagnostic, treatment and prevention tools emerging out of a renewed effort in research and development.
However, to translate this innovation into action so that new tools are widely available and accessible to all everywhere, we cannot slow our efforts. On the contrary we have to persist in order to accelerate progress. For that, tuberculosis has to be placed high in the global post-2015 development agenda. We must reach for the aspirational goal of zero TB deaths, zero TB disease and zero suffering. This should be our shared goal and drive for joint action over the coming years.
I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to serve the communities affected by tuberculosis. Those communities were my main source of inspiration and gave me the drive to keep moving forward throughout these years. My deepest gratitude goes to all of them, together with the encouragement to never stop making their voices heard.
As I said many times in the past years, we all need to play a role in combating tuberculosis. It is only with the advice and the cooperation of a wide range of individuals and organizations that we can achieve concrete results and save lives.
My promise is that I will keep advocating in the future. Tuberculosis has become my personal cause, and I will make sure many others take it to heart.