Frustrated with a lack of political will shown by nations with a high burden of tuberculosis, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is calling for the first United Nations General Assembly on the deadly but curable infection.
Speaking to The Hindu , Mario Raviglione, Director of the Global Tuberculosis Programme at the WHO, said, “We are now insisting on a UNGA on TB. We are not happy any more just talking to Ministers of Health because they have limited power.”Jump in cases
The development follows the release of the Global TB report, in which the WHO had to significantly revise the global burden of TB after a 34 per cent increase in cases reported from India. The country shoulders the highest burden of 2.2 million cases a year. Nearly 2,40,000 people die of TB each year, and 61,000 develop an untreatable form of the disease, called multi-drug resistant TB (MDR TB).
The UNGA meeting on TB is a strategy copied from the HIV movement, when member states adopted a political declaration to fast-track progress in combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Countries adopted a set of time-bound targets in June this year towards combating the worldwide scourge of HIV/AIDS over five years and ending the epidemic as a public health threat by 2030.
So far, on the WHO’s urging, Russia and South Africa — both high-burden countries — have initiated a dialogue. The idea is to move beyond Health Ministers and involve Ministers of Justice (as TB is a common problem among prisoners) and Finance Ministers, Mr. Raviglione said.
“We have been discussing with several countries, particularly Russia. They are hosting the ministerial conference on TB. We want to involve Ministers of Health and Ministers of Justice and Minister of Finance. There has been a discussion about going to the UNGA and we have encouraged that. South African Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has announced his intention of going to the UNGA, as TB is a public health crisis in SA. We got Russia and SA to sit down on this and the diplomats are now talking. It is time to go to UNGA for TB. Member-states of U.N. need to give a global push for it,” Mr. Raviglione said.
Meanwhile, the global health community gathered at the 47th World Lung Conference in Liverpool is keenly following developments in India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a high-level meeting on TB on Thursday.