TB/HIV in the spotlight at the International AIDS Conference

22 July 2010 - Vienna - It was a first at the International AIDS Conference--a protest march calling for no more deaths from TB in people living with HIV. The TB cough-in/coffin March began in the Global Village at the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria at noontime. Scores of people assembled, with t-shirts, placards, cardboard coffins, special Stop TB handkerchiefs, vuvuzelas, drums and banners.

They alternated between coughing into handkerchiefs and chanting the slogans: ‘When you cough, when you sneeze, cover your mouth to stop TB’ or more simply STOP TB! One of the two black coffins bore the messages: "Saved from HIV, but died from tuberculosis".

The marchers wove their way through the ‘Global village’, swelling their ranks with new volunteers as they crossed the conference centre, finally landing in a session room where a lunchtime plenary session on TB/HIV was about to begin. The session, chaired by Michel Kazatchkine, Executive Director of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, featured Dr Jorge Sampaio, the UN Secretary General Special Envoy to Stop TB; Marcos Espinal, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership, Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS and Timur Abdullaev, a human rights lawyer from Uzbekistan who is living with HIV and currently undergoing TB treatment.

"Let's face reality: tuberculosis remains the leading causes of death among people living with HIV. In 2008 tuberculosis accounted for over half million AIDS related deaths, that is more than one in every four AIDS deaths," Dr Sampaio said.

Mr Abdullaev, Mr Sidibé and Dr Espinal exhorted those present at the session -- and all 20 000 participants in the conference - to view TB/HIV as the crisis, and tragedy, that it is.

At the closing Dr Sampaio presided over the signing of a landmark document: a memorandum of understanding between the Stop TB Partnership and UNAIDS. The agreement binds the two organizations together in a common goal: to strive towards halving the number of people living with HIV who die from TB by 2015, compared to 2004 levels. Provision of life-saving antiretroviral treatment for all TB patients living with HIV is another key objective.

Stop TB and UNAIDS will press government health programmes to reach all people in need of care for TB/HIV by integrating the services that provide diagnosis and treatment for both conditions; and also seek to increase the resources needed to accomplish this goal. Another overarching objective is to galvanize civil society organizations, communities affected by TB and HIV and the private sector to form strong partnerships aimed at jointly addressing TB/HIV.

In keeping with the focus of this year's AIDS conference, the signers stressed the needs of marginalized groups. "We call on the world's leaders to promote full access to HIV and TB services for women and girls, orphans, displaced persons, migrants, prisoners, men who have sex with men, people who use drugs other vulnerable groups," Dr Espinal said.

During 2010 and 2011 the leadership of Stop TB and UNAIDS will make at least two joint visits to countries heavily affected by TB/HIV per year and promote their new initiative at least one international event per year.

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