It is with profound sadness and regret that we learned of the recent passing of Dean Lewis. Our deepest condolences go out to his family; we hope they know just how much Dean gave of himself in the fight against TB and how he touched the lives of so many.
We cannot underestimate the loss Dean’s parting is to the TB community as one of the most outspoken and articulate voices in the fight against TB. Most recently he was one of the TB leaders developing the Declaration on the Rights of People Affected by TB – the next step in realizing a human-rights based response to TB. More significant than his professional contributions was Dean as a person. He was our friend. He would make us all laugh. And he was loved by all those privileged enough to be close to him.
Dean Lewis was one of the greatest voices in the TB response. He demonstrated this in his role as the co-Chair of the United Nations High-Level Meeting on TB Affected Communities Advisory Panel just last year and he deserves significant credit for the achievements in mobilizing the global TB community. Dean volunteered his time as a TB activist, getting the voice of TB affected communities heard – demanding they be given a platform to share their expert opinion and precious experiences as only TB affected people can. Dean’s articulate, bold and passionate dialogue made a vital point clear - that without affected communities being at the center of the response, we will not end TB.
Dean was an outstanding TB champion and his voice could never be ignored. Like many TB champions, he demanded that the experiences of people affected by TB should inform changes in policies and TB programmes at every level. He worked day in day out to advance the TB response. He believed in a world without needless TB deaths – where everyone, irrespective of who they are or where they live can access the care they need. He volunteered his time, working for those who are marginalized, who are vulnerable and who do not have a platform to raise their voices. He shined a light on injustice and inequity everywhere. He put an arm around those who have no one else. To mentor, to teach and support the next generation of TB, HIV and harm reduction activists.
"Thank you, comrade, for reminding me of what real advocacy looks like.", "Today the pain of losing you is difficult to bear because this world needed you for some more years. An advocate for communities, a human rights activist, a counselor, a mediator... but above all, a friend. The beautiful moments you shared with all of us will always speak of a great person that you were. You will be missed here forever, but your legacy will continue for years to come.", "Rest in peace, brother. You have done great things."
For those of us lucky to work closely with Dean, it is only fitting that he has the last word:
"Poverty, homelessness and criminalized behavior made me invisible to health systems. For many that reality remains. We must commit to reaching populations of people like me. Commit the money to overcome the barriers these people face to access basic services. In TB, we talk about ‘missing millions.’ We are not ‘missing’,’ we are standing right here."
"The last two years have seen human rights establish a permanent position in global TB discourse. This is important, but what comes next is more critical. We now must operationalize human rights at the grassroots level. Right now, for many, they are distant. Human rights must not remain the luxury of the exclusive few."
It is now up to all of us to love more, to work longer, to fight harder and take forward his powerful message.
Dean, we will miss you.