Landmark in TB for public health

01 December 2015 - Cape Town, South Africa - Two back-to-back events yesterday saw the conclusion of a landmark day in public health for tuberculosis. The Stop TB Partnership’s Global Plan to End TB 2016-2020: The Paradigm Shift was endorsed by global and national leaders ahead of the start of the 46th Union World Conference on Lung Health in Cape Town. The 2nd Global TB Summit ended with nearly 50 parliamentarians of the now 650-strong Global TB Caucus having met across three days to discuss what they can do collectively and individually to support the roll out and funding of the Global Plan to End TB 2016-2020 in order to end the TB epidemic.

The Global Plan high level endorsement press event in the morning was hosted by South Africa’s Minister for Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, chair of the Stop TB Partnership Coordinating Board, and was joined by a strong leadership panel including Nick Herbert, MP from the UK and co-chair of the Global TB Caucus, Cheri Vincent representing the US Government, Eric Goosby, the UN Special Envoy for TB, José Luiz Castro, Executive Director of The Union, Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership, and Solelwa Sifumba, a young medical student who has had MDR-TB who shared her compelling story.

On November 20, The Stop TB Partnership published the Global Plan to End TB, in which it delivered a very blunt message to the world - without an immediate and large increase in investment to fight TB, the global fight to eliminate the disease as a public health threat by 2035 (as spelt out in the World Health Organization’s End TB Strategy) will be missed. And if the glacial global decrease in TB incidence of 1.5 per cent per year continues, the disease will remain a public health threat for another two centuries. The Global Plan aims to diagnose and treat at least 90 per cent of all people with TB (including reaching at least 90 per cent of people with TB among key affected populations) and ensure at least 90 per cent successfully complete treatment, including in drug resistant cases.

Endorsing the Plan, the Honorable Minister of Health of South Africa, Dr Motsoaledi said, "TB has been persistent through history because its roots are deeply intertwined with economic and social factors. The management of TB is therefore a litmus test for our commitment to social equality and health for all. Unfortunately, its longevity has created a sense of acceptance that the disease is here to stay and a sense of complacency."

South Africa is leading from the front with its own ambitious plans to hit the Stop TB’s 90-(90)-90 target by 2020. This will target mining communities where TB rates are enormous, testing current and former miners and their families and friends, as well as 90 per cent of the prison population, where TB has always thrived, and also where the late Nelson Mandela became infected with TB in the 1980s.

"TB is the world's biggest infectious killer, yet it receives only a fraction of the resources and attention given to other major diseases", said Rt Hon Nick Herbert, MP and Co-chair of the Global TB Caucus. "If we are to meet the newly agreed Sustainable Development Goals and eliminate TB by 2030 we need to take a new approach to tackling the pandemic. The Global Plan gives us that opportunity, but it needs global political commitment and proper resourcing. That is why I will be asking members of the Global TB Caucus to endorse the Plan and to press their governments to do the same."

"South Africa, which is showing tremendous leadership in its fight with TB, is the ideal location for parliamentarians and partners and should serve as a global example to meet and endorse the Stop TB Partnership’s Global Plan to End TB," says Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership.

"It’s time for a paradigm shift in the fight against TB," said José Luis Castro, Executive Director of The Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, who are convening this week´s conference. "To be successful, countries need to read the plan and begin to implement it immediately, which will require new financing - and mobilizing new health workers on the front lines We need to invest now in research that will bring us new, simple TB diagnostic tests, new medications and most importantly, a better vaccine."

Solelwa Sifumba, a young 25 year old medical student at the University of Cape Town who has now recovered from MDR-TB said, ‘I contracted multidrug-resistant TB in 2012 while on the wards. The journey was terrible to say the least but I made it through. I returned to medical school this year after completing my full course of treatment and hit the ground running. I am proud to say that I’ve made it to my 5thyear. This year, I have also managed to work with the student council at medical school to spread awareness of TB and the message that we need to protect ourselves, an attempt to go against the culture that as medical students and health professionals, we are somehow immune to TB.’

Ms Cheri Vincent representing the US Government said "We welcome the launch of the Global Plan to End TB 2016-2020. This ambitious plan provides a blueprint to reach the Sustainable Development Goal of ending TB by 2030 and describes the actions and resources needed for success. By further scaling-up and integrating TB services into health systems, by reaching and curing everyone with TB in need of treatment, and by ensuring access to quality heath interventions to all in need, we can reduce poverty and build healthy, resilient societies that are free from TB. We have the ability to rid the world of this curable disease. With concerted global action, investment, and innovation, we can end TB."

"There is no doubt that we are facing serious barriers in the fight against TB. The Global Plan provides a roadmap that builds on the End TB Strategy and tackles the challenges the barriers present," says Dr Eric Goosby, UN Special Envoy for TB. "It’s a forward-looking, ambitious document that calls upon all parties to do their share in helping to reach the SDG 2030 goal."

"The Global Plan to end TB sets out ambitious but achievable goals and complements UNAIDS Fast-Track approach to break the AIDS epidemic over the next five years," said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. "Ending these twin epidemics as part of the Sustainable Development Goals will avert millions of new infections and lead to better health outcomes for people in the most affected areas of the world."

The Global TB Summit which ended in the afternoon was the biggest political event on TB in nearly 100 years and it brought together leading experts and civil society figures that briefed the delegates on the major issues facing TB elimination. The Summit was hosted by the co-chairperson of the Global TB Caucus, the Minister of South Africa, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, in coalition with Nick Herbert, MP, the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Global TB and José Luis Castro, the Executive Director of The Union.

The meeting ended with 50 parliamentarians from over 30 countries representing among others, the UK, South Africa, Canada, Kenya, India, Mozambique, Georgia, France endorsing the Global Plan and committing to concrete actions for its roll out as well as a fully replenished Global Fund. This event follows on last year’s inaugural summit, which culminated in the Barcelona Declaration to End TB now signed by over 650 political representatives from over 100 countries.