Counting the cost of TB

14 Nov 2017

This guest blog post is written by Matt Oliver, RESULTS UK alumni and Head of the Secretariat of the Global TB Caucus, the world’s largest independent parliamentary network.

Today, the Global TB Caucus launched a new report detailing the economic impact of TB. The report, entitled “The Price of a Pandemic 2017”, includes new estimates for the cost of TB produced by global accountancy firm, KPMG.

The headlines are sobering: an estimated USD$1 trillion in lost economic output worldwide by 2030 and thirteen sub-Saharan African countries which will lose more than 1 per cent of their GDP in the next fifteen years. 

This is not a doomsday scenario. The figures are based on World Health Organization (WHO) estimates for the future trajectory of the disease if we continue exactly as we are. Far from achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target to end TB by 2030, the WHO estimate that 28 million people will die from TB in the next fifteen years. The SDG target will be missed by 150 years.

The intention behind commissioning these new numbers was not simply to find new ways of articulating the terrible scale of the TB epidemic, but rather to build the foundations for a new narrative on the disease.

For years, the TB community has attempted to draw attention to the disease by raising the alarm around the number of deaths, or the human impact of the disease.  In fact, we have been doing it since 1993 when the WHO declared TB a global health emergency.  This approach has had some results – progress has been made – but we are a long way from achieving the kind of political engagement on TB that has been seen for other epidemics such as HIV and malaria.

There are many complex reasons for this, but perhaps the one that is most easily addressed is that the narrative has become too negative. We are going to decision-makers and saying: “the epidemic is terrible, we are losing, we have no weapons to win the fight”; and then, when we ask why they won’t engage more, the response is: “the epidemic is terrible, you are losing, there are no weapons”. In short, we are not telling people that this is a fight that can be won.

And yet, it is a fight that can be won. There are many intractable problems in the world, but TB is not unstoppable. It can be treated and it can be cured. It just requires political will and additional investments that seem daunting in scale… until you look at the cost.

This is where these figures come in so useful. For the first time, we can say to any Minister in 167 countries: “TB cost your country x from 2000-2015, and will cost y from 2015-2030 if you continue exactly as you are, but if you do take action, not only will you have a major impact on the health of your people, but you will also benefit from an immediate and significant economic dividend.”

Whether this narrative will have more success than previous efforts remains to be seen, but if you want people to join your side, it’s a good first step to make your side look like the one that is winning.

So, to conclude as all good advocates should with an ask: next time you’re talking about TB, spend more time talking about the opportunity than the cost (human or otherwise).  And if you need some numbers to help you make the case, you can find them here: www.globaltbcaucus.org.

Naveed Chaudhri

Head of Campaigns

Naveed Chaudhri is the Head of Campaigns. Naveed’s passion is to help build grassroots campaigns networks to increase public support for improving the lives of people in poor communities. Previously working at Oxfam and VSO, he has long experience managing activism and campaigning programmes,...

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