South African Minister of Health opens Stop TB Coordinating Board meeting in Johannesburg

14 October 2010 - Johannesburg, South Africa - "We are the first to acknowledge that we have a huge TB problem, said Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Health of South Africa at the opening session of the 19th Stop TB Partnership Coordinating Board meeting today. He added that his country's response had to be "of sufficient magnitude in order to be equal to the big problem at hand." Having fully recognized the scale of the problem the Minister added, South Africa has embarked on an ambitious programme to confront the disease.

The HIV Counselling and Testing Campaign, launched earlier this year, plans to counsel and test 15 million South Africans. Some 600 000 eligible people living with HIV will receive INH preventive treatment. A million people have already been tested for TB and two million for HIV.

Echoing the Global Plan to Stop TB 2011-2015, which was launched yesterday, the Minister cautioned that without dramatic increases in funding and political commitment, "more people will develop active TB, more lives will be lost, more children will become orphans and there will be more cases of drug-resistant forms of TB." Dr Rifat Atun, Chair of the Stop TB Partnership Coordinating Board, praised South Africa these bold new initiatives and the leadership they are showing.

At a landmark session featuring progress, challenges and opportunities relevant to TB Control in Lesotho, South Africa and Lesotho, those countries' health ministers (Dr Mphu Ramatlapeng, Dr Motsoaledi and Mr Benedict Xaba) stressed the need for regional and cross-country harmonization, particularly to promote continuity of care. Noting the high level of TB transmission in many workplaces, especially mines, they called for improved regulation and provision of incentives as well as a new focus on taking up novel technical solutions, such as the new quick TB tests and mobile technology.

"It is clear that in Southern Africa and indeed in many regions of the world TB is not only a national problem, but a regional problem that also requires regional solutions. TB is an issue of global health security. We must embark now on the road to a world where TB is eliminated," said Dr Atun.

Regional bodies like SADC were identified as critical for strengthening the regional response, given the heavy burden of TB on its members. The private sector was also identified as a key player in the response. The three African ministers unanimously voiced their deep concern about the impact of the mining industry and agreed that cross-country aspects that are not being adequately addressed.

Other items in the agenda included a discussion on the response to TB/HIV, at which it was agreed that a work plan related to the Memorandum of Understanding between the Stop TB Partnership and UNAIDS will be finalized in November; and a review of the recent efforts on scaling up MDR-TB diagnosis and treatment. In another landmark session the Board strongly endorsed the development of more ambitious goals, advocacy, and communication in order to reinvigorate global attention to TB. The Board also agreed to enhance their strategic engagement with the Global Fund in light of its critical importance of as a donor and the context of the current financial environment.

Other items under consideration by the Board include: the Global Drug's Facility's action plan, a special session on civil society engagement, a special section on vaccines, a report on TB REACH, the Global TB Control Report and an update on the Global Task Force on TB Impact Measurement.

Read the speech by Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Health of South Africa [.pdf]