This year, the UN is hosting the first High-Level Meeting on Tuberculosis (TB) on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. This is a remarkable opportunity for some of the world’s most powerful people to end the world’s deadliest infectious disease.
For all of you keen politicos and those who want to see a healthier world, here are 5 things to look out for: Power, People, Pledges, Paper and Presidents. How these 5 elements interact will be a key part of the High-Level Meeting, and their smooth interaction will be an essential part in our fight to eradicate TB by 2030.
In 2017, there was a US$ 2.3 billion funding gap for TB programmes and a further US$ 1.3 billion funding gap for TB research. Without that funding, it's impossible for us to reach the SDG target of ending TB by 2030. Nothing can be achieved without a substantial amount of money being invested into institutions like the Global Fund. If each country commits their fair share, then we will be well on our way to eradicating TB. Not only will it alleviate suffering, but it’s also a great investment: according to a recent study, for every £1 invested in TB programmes, the global economy gets £43 back. Not even everyone’s favourite Wall Street Wolf could say no to that. Dig deep, guys: there’s enough to go around.
This is what it all comes down to: those people who are affected by TB having their suffering alleviated, and the opportunity to go on and live healthy and fulfilling lives. 1.6 million people a year die from TB - more than Malaria and HIV/AIDS combined - so people with TB have to be at the forefront of policy makers’ minds. If their voices are lost amongst the fine words of the politicians, then we will lose track of why we want to end TB. And, just remember, there is no effective vaccination against TB: if one is discovered, then patients can see a lot more Dr. Hibbert, and a lot less of Dr. Nick.
The big movers and shakers of the Global Health and political worlds will attend the Meeting, and are guaranteed to make headlines. Will Bill Gates get the party going? Will President Kagame of Rwanda bring the same dynamism he has shown in rebuilding his country? Will President Ramaphosa of South Africa show the same determination to find a cure for TB as his country showed during the Aids crisis of the 1990’s? Will Theresa May show up? Country and NGO leaders’ attendance is essential: their symbolic and practical role in providing leadership and effective coordination is crucial.
This is just paper, right? Just a flimsy bit of material? Just like the Magna Carter, the Declaration of Independence, or the Founding Charter of the United Nations are just bits of paper. Their symbolic power can transcend all else, and what each country agrees and commits to paper has the power to achieve lasting and positive change. Activists, researchers and the medical community have been working furiously to ensure that affected communities are remembered in the political declaration. I would say don’t sweat it, but please do: it’s super important. Over to you, delegates. Just remember to keep any paper away from water. Or fire. Or your pet dog. After all, it is just a piece of paper.
After all has been said and done, the techy people will want to make sure that an ‘accountability framework’ is enforced. To muggles like you and me, this essentially means how will we make sure that countries do what they said they would. Ensuring that all pledges are met will be a key part of ensuring that this Meeting is a success. How will this be done? It will be achieved through the political declaration, and ensuring that countries agree to clearly defined targets and goals, all shared out equally amongst those countries most affected, and by those countries with the power to influence the key institutions. It’s also up to you: put pressure on our politicians to ensure that the UK plays a leading role in this. If the pledges are met, hopefully we’ll all be out of a job soon.