UN summit on TB seeks to put spotlight on killer disease

It’s the world’s number one killer among infectious diseases, but tuberculosis has been eclipsed by HIV/AIDS as a focus of global attention and donor funding. When world leaders gather at the United Nations next month, they will be asked to change that by committing to end the tuberculosis pandemic by 2030 and come up with USD 13 billion annually to achieve that goal.

A row between the United States and South Africa threatens, however, to cast a pall over the first high-level meeting on tuberculosis, to be held on the sidelines of the General Assembly meeting in New York.

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates whose global fund has done game-changing work to boost public health in poor countries will be among the headliners of the TB summit on September 26.

“TB is not a disease of the past, but if the world works together to fight it, I have no doubt it can be,” Gates said in post on Twitter.

Two months of negotiations on a final declaration were scheduled to wrap up in July, but the talks have dragged on after South Africa opposed US proposals to delete language that recognizes the right of poorer countries to access cheaper medicines.

Medical charity MSF has applauded South Africa’s stance and urged countries to resist what it has described as “an aggressive push” by the US pharmaceutical lobby to restrict access to low-cost drugs.

Diplomats said negotiations were continuing on a possible compromise.

Last year, the World Health Organization sounded the alarm when it said tuberculosis had surpassed HIV/AIDS as the world’s number one infectious killer and was the ninth cause of death worldwide. About 1.7 million people died from TB in 2016 out of 10.4 million worldwide who became ill from the severe lung infection, according to the WHO.

A 30-point final declaration under negotiation would commit governments to end the global tuberculosis epidemic by 2030 by stepping up investment and innovation to fight the disease.

Governments would agree to mobilize at least USD 13 billion a year by 2022 for treatment and care and an additional USD 2 billion to fund research at a time when tuberculosis is becoming more resistant to antibiotics.

Five countries are the hardest-hit by the TB pandemic: India, which accounts for a quarter of cases, Indonesia, China, the Philippines and Pakistan, but it remains unclear whether these nations are sending high-level officials to the summit.

Non-governmental organizations say leaders from key donor countries like the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Canada must turn up for the meeting to be ground-breaking.


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