Should We Celebrate World TB Day? I'll Tell You in 1000 Days

FILE - A woman suffering from tuberculosis covers her face at a clinic in the township of Khayelitsha, South Africa, in this
FILE - A woman suffering from tuberculosis covers her face at a clinic in the township of Khayelitsha, South Africa, in this file photo dated Thursday, March 24, 2011. It is announced Monday Feb. 4, 2013, that the world’s most advanced tuberculosis vaccine failed to protect babies against the airborne infectious disease, according to a new study that tested the shot in South Africa.(AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam, FILE )

I was talking to Benedict Xaba, Swaziland's health minister, this morning when someone asked us how we are planning to celebrate World TB Day.

We told them about the event we are attending today in Swaziland to launch a new 1,000 day push against TB and HIV. And I reeled off a list of the other events that our many Stop TB partners are organizing around the world.

But then we turned to each other and asked, should this year's World TB Day really be a celebration?

Probably not, we agreed.

On the one hand, there is much progress to be proud of. Rolling out high-quality TB care has saved 20 million lives in the past 17 years, and the number of people getting sick with TB each year is slowly falling.

There have also been technical advances. The arrival of a new while-you-wait TB test in 2010 means that we can scale up TB care more aggressively. More recently, the US and South African Food and Drug Administrations approved the first new drug against TB in half a century.

But across the world we are also seeing the symptoms of years of underinvestment and insufficient action in the fight against TB.

A lack of funding for TB programmes is leading to more and more people going without access to proper diagnosis or treatment. This is fueling the development of strains of TB that are resistant to most or all ordinary drugs. The World Health Organization (WHO) and Médecins sans Frontières both warned this week that international financing to tackle these forms of TB -- known as multidrug-resistant TB or MDR-TB -- must be increased urgently.

We must also acknowledge the distressing fact that Africa is not on track to achieve the international targets of cutting deaths from TB and HIV-associated TB by half by 2015.
The gathering in Swaziland today is not about underlining the problem, however. We all know very well that TB and HIV have combined in a perfect storm in Southern Africa. What we need is urgent action.

So I was very pleased to be joined today by partners from African governments and international agencies to launch a 1000 day push against TB and HIV. In signing the Swaziland Statement, representatives from the Global Fund, UNAIDS, the World Bank, IOM, DFID, MSF, the Chamber of Mines and other organizations have all committed to exercise their political, economic and technical influence to maximize momentum for this issue.

What does this mean in practice? Here's an example. South Africa's health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, announced that the World Bank and other partners will convene a summit later in the year on stopping TB in Southern African mining communities.

Importantly the group assembled today has also committed a package of investments and activities on TB/HIV worth more than $120 million.

This is a great start, but it is far from enough.

The WHO estimates that at least $1.6 billion in additional donor funding is needed each year for TB treatment and prevention. Sixty percent of that gap is for programmes in Africa.

So how do we close this gap?

We must make sure that the Global Fund -- which provides the vast majority of international financing for TB programmes -- has a successful fundraising drive this year.

We need all partners to step up their game.

It is essential that governments scale up national responses to TB and HIV and do more to integrate their approaches to the two diseases. As UNAIDS said today, we must have no more disease programmes running in parallel.

The corporate sector must increase its engagement by bringing expertise, innovation and resources.

Development partners must provide coordinated support to address the funding gaps at national and regional level that prevent the achievement of our bold ambition.

Finally, civil society and communities must work to ensure that approaches are streamlined, health programmes reach all those in need -- especially the most vulnerabl e- -and all partners are held accountable.

If we can achieve all this in a 1000 days' time, maybe then I'll have good reason to make World TB Day celebration plans.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, The Global Fund, and the Stop TB Partnership in recognition of World TB Day. For more information on The Global Fund, click here. To read more posts about The Big Push -- The Global Fund's effort to eradicate HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis -- click here