Global TB Community Unites to Demand Action and Accountability

Lynda Mwakisha

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New York City’s Battery park witnessed a vibrant gathering of individuals from across the world on 7 May 2023, as the global tuberculosis (TB) affected community, civil society, healthcare workers, researchers, and representatives from technical support agencies came together for a community assembly. The participants, who  travelled from far and wide, converged in New York City to make their voices heard at the upcoming Multi Stakeholder Hearing on TB happening on 8 May 2023 at the United Nations Headquarters.
Determined to ensure that the response to TB is centered on the rights of people affected by the disease, they met to make sure that the community’s voices are heard and guide ongoing negotiations on a political declaration that will be adopted at the United Nations High-Level Meeting (UN HLM) on TB in September. According to newsmen, their focus is not limited to achieving ambitious targets in the political declaration, but also to ensure accountability at the national, regional, and global level.

 

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Speaking of the deadly impact of TB, Obiefuna Arinze Austin, an activist from Afro Global Alliance Ghana also affected by TB said “We cannot ignore the fact that TB remains a debilitating disease that affects millions of people in all countries around the world. Shockingly, in 2021 alone, 1.6 million people lost their lives to TB, including 187,000 people living with HIV. It is alarming that TB, a preventable and treatable disease, continues to be a leading cause of death and is expected to soon overtake COVID-19 as the leading cause of death from an infectious disease.”

Reflecting on the fact that investing in the fight against TB is one of the most high-yield investments governments can make to safeguard health and promote economic development Kate O’Brien from We are TB, USA added, “We have seen before that investing in averting TB deaths can bring significant economic benefits! Every dollar invested in this effort returns an average of US$ 43 dollars, making it a smart and impactful investment for communities and economies alike.”

For most people gathered at the community assembly this fight is personal.” We, the representatives of a global community of people affected by TB, are gathered here to remind the world that behind every TB statistic is a precious life, a loved one, a friend. It’s time for us to come together and ensure that everyone has access to the best possible standard of care, and that their human rights are protected at every level. We must act now to stop this preventable and treatable disease from taking any more lives. We will not rest until we see an end to this global crisis.”, said Stephen Anguva Shikoli, National Coordinator Network of TB Champions, Kenya.

The community assembly saw the public reading of the open letter to world leaders demanding accelerated action now to make ending TB possible and help achieve a healthier, more equitable, and TB free world. The letter has been signed by almost 1200 individuals and organisations from across the world and specifically calls on governments to prioritise investment in TB vaccine research and development (R&D).

“TB is a matter of social and economic justice. We need new TB vaccines to end TB, mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the global TB response, and control the spread of drug-resistant TB, a key driver of antimicrobial resistance. Yet, the only available TB vaccine is the century-old Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) which is largely ineffective in adolescents and adults. Let’s invest in TB vaccine R&D to finally put an end to this devastating pandemic,” said Keyuri Bhanushali, a TB survivor and activist from Mumbai, India.

Our demands are simple. We are asking world leaders to take the following concrete steps to fight TB:

Close gaps in TB prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care by reaching all people with TB.
Make the TB response equitable, gender-responsive, rights-based, and stigma-free with TB-affected communities and civil society at the centre by 2025.
Accelerate the development, roll-out and access to essential new tools to end TB, including new TB vaccines.
Invest the funds necessary to end TB.
Prioritise TB in pandemic prevention, preparedness and response (PPPR), antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and universal health coverage (UHC).
Commit to multisectoral action, decisive leadership and accountability.

And we will continue to push for it! ” said Timur Abdullaev, Board member, TBpeople Global, Uzbekistan.

The Community Assembly was organised by the #2023TBHLM Affected Communities and Civil Society Coordination Hub (Hosted by GFAN), the Stop TB Partnership, and the World Health Organization (WHO). As the community gears up for the Multistakeholder Hearing on TB and the UN HLM on TB happening later this year, this gathering served as a powerful reminder of the determination and commitment of the community to continue the fight for a TB free world.