Working towards a Successful UN High-Level Meeting on Tuberculosis

African Presidents first to commit to attending the UNHLM.

Next month on September 26th, the first-ever High-Level Meeting on Tuberculosis (UNHLM on TB) will take place in New York, at the United Nations General Assembly Heads of State, governments and partners engaged in the fight against TB will have a unique opportunity to make a global impact to end TB. This committment and the results of the meeting could change the trajectory of the tuberculosis epidemic.

Every year around the world, 10.4 million new people fall ill with tuberculosis, and 4.1 million of them fail to be diagnosed, treated or reported by health systems. By any standard, the 4,600 people who die of TB every day is an unacceptable level of human suffering and economic burden.

Tuberculosis is contagious and airborne. Despite being curable, TB remains the leading cause of death from an infectious disease and the leading killer of people living with HIV. The disease represents a global health security threat and results in high economic and financial burdens to the TB-patients and their families.

In 2014 the Global TB Caucus was founded by a unique international network of parlamentarians and political representatives led by Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Health for South Africa, and the Rt Hon Nick Herbert MP from the United Kingdom. The caucus aims to build the necessary political will to fight TB, and is now supported in more than 130 countries. In 2017 the caucus launched "The Price of a Pandemic 2017", a report that looked at how the global economy would be affected if the TB crisis continues in its current path. The report estimates that deaths from TB will cost the global economy close to US $1 trillion over the next 15 years.

The increasing concern about the TB burden over the last decade has brought tuberculosis to the top of the global agenda and in 2016 the resolution calling for a UN HLM on TB was tabled by the Global Health and Foreign Policy Initiative, a UN country grouping which includes South Africa, Thailand, Brazil, France, Norway, Senegal, and Indonesia, before being passed by the General Assembly and a date set. A UNHLM is convened by the UN General Assembly and this year’s meeting on TB is only the fifth such meeting to discuss a specific global health issue.

The UNHLM on TB aims to secure commitment from Heads of State and government for a coordinated global response both financially and in rights of TB patients to access diagnosis and treatment, as well as in development of new tools to help end TB.

H.E. Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa and H.E. Mr. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, were the first Heads of State to commit to attending the High-Level. The Presidents announced their commitment at the opening of the 31st Africa Union (AU) Heads of State Summit in Mauritania in June. President Kagame is the Chair of the Africa Union and hosted a meeting of African Heads of State to discuss the Common Africa Position on the upcoming High-Level Meeting on TB.

President Kagame, highlighting the urgent threat of TB in the region, said “TB is one of the major diseases in Africa and sixteen of thirty designated world’s high TB burden countries are on the continent. It is in this context that the AU member states Experts and Ministers of Health endorsed the Common Africa Position on TB that will be presented during this meeting ahead of the United Nations High Level Meeting on TB in September in New York.”