Statement for World TB Day by Dr Marcos Espinal, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership

24 March 2010 - Geneva - World TB Day is a good moment for reflection on our achievements. We must ask ourselves, how far have we come in the fight against the global TB epidemic?

In 2010, the question has especially significant meaning. We are now at the halfway mark for the Global Plan to Stop TB 2006-2015; and it is a benchmark year for the Millennium Development Goals. With only five years left until the 2015 deadline to achieve the MDGs, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on world leaders to attend a summit in New York on 20-22 September 2010, to look at progress to date and see what can be done to move faster.

Our achievements on TB, in relation to the MDGs, are a cause for both celebration and caution. The MDG for tuberculosis calls for halting and reversing the epidemic. Therefore by objective criteria, we have actually met this goal. Beginning in 2004 the incidence rate -- that is, the percentage of the world's population that became ill with TB in a given year -- flattened and then began a slow decline. This gradual descent continued through 2008, the last year for which data are available.

Some 36 million people have been cured of TB over the past 15 years through DOTS. And since the launch of DOTS in 1994, the number of people being cured has increased regularly and up to 8 million TB deaths have been averted.

It is a victory, but a fragile one. The number of people becoming sick with TB each year is still on the rise in tandem with world population growth. An upset -- and reversal -- of the gradually declining incidence rate is entirely possible. In addition it is not clear at this stage whether the MDG related targets of halving prevalence and deaths due to TB will be achieved by 2015. Therefore it is not enough to merely sustain the global fight against tuberculosis. We must step it up.

This year's World TB Day slogan, On the move against tuberculosis, and its theme of Innovation speak well to the Stop TB Partnership's invigorated action plan to help countries move ahead.

Our new TB REACH initiative seeks to increase TB case detection as early as possible and ensure timely treatment, while maintaining high cure rates within DOTS component of the Stop TB strategy. TB REACH will encourage the development and application of innovative, ground-breaking and efficient techniques, interventions and activities that result in increased TB case detection and effective treatment. It will focus on reaching people who currently have limited or no access to TB services from eligible countries, awarding individual grants of up to $1,000,000 annually.

Our Global Drug Facility continues to play a key role in advancing the fight against TB by supplying high-quality drugs and diagnostics. GDF has provided more than 16 million treatments to countries since its creation in 2001. It is also a key partner with UNITAID, FIND and the Global Laboratory Initiative in EXPAND TB, which is making an innovative approach to rapid MDR-TB diagnosis -- the line probe assay -- available to a growing number of countries.

Elimination of TB is a distant, perhaps an impossible, goal if we do not bring new diagnostics, drugs and vaccines to market. To drive that agenda, last week the USA-based National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Stop TB Partnership Research Movement convened top scientists for a meeting at the NIH aimed at defining priority questions that must be addressed to transform the development of new TB drugs, diagnostics and vaccines and guide the development of novel health care interventions to meet the target of TB elimination by 2050. This was a landmark event - the first meeting by the Stop TB Partnership to discuss and integrate basic research activities into its Global Plan to Stop TB. The outcome of the meeting -- which was opened by Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases -- will be published in Nature Medicine. I take this opportunity to thank NIH for its commitment to boost basic research on TB.

We congratulate the World Health Organization for its new report, Multidrug and extensively drug-resistant TB (M/XDR-TB): 2010 Global report on surveillance and response. The report confirms that MDR-TB and XDR-TB are serious threats to global health. At the same time, we are seeing "beacons" - areas which have succeeded despite enormous challenges. In around five years, two areas in Russia, where levels of MDR-TB were formerly rising, are achieving a dramatic reversal. This confirms that severe MDR-TB epidemics can be halted and turned around. These two Russian regions now join other countries that have made major progress in recent times (Estonia, Latvia, USA and Hong Kong).

We applaud the Global Fund on the release of their Results 2010 report. Global Fund-supported programmes have played a key role in recent progress in the global fight against TB.

I thank all countries' National TB Programme Managers (NTPs) and Stop TB Partners for their hard work on getting TB diagnosis and treatment to the people who need them. We know you will keep working towards detection of even more cases, in part by expanding successful advocacy, communication and social mobilization activities and finding new ways of partnering with civil society, TB-affected communities and other country-level stakeholders. I am grateful to Partners who have made such tremendous efforts on the development and delivery of new tools.

On the occasion of World TB Day we appeal to governments, donors and the world scientific community to move forward on two paths. The first is to increase and sustain funding for implementation of current tools in line with the WHO Stop TB Strategy and the Global Plan to Stop TB. The second is to acknowledge the urgency of accelerating the TB research agenda, through fresh funding and a new level of commitment by the research community.

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