UN To Hold A Major Meeting On Tuberculosis, The Top Global Infectious Killer

One of the world's deadliest diseases is finally getting some global political attention.

Advocates in the fight against tuberculosis are celebrating Thursday’s promising announcement that the United Nations General Assembly will hold a high-level meeting dedicated solely to TB in 2018.

There have been only four other such meetings devoted to health issues ― one on HIV/AIDS in 2001, one on noncommunicable diseases in 2011, one on Ebola in 2014 and one on antimicrobial resistance in 2015.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity for TB’s defeat,” Mario Raviglione, director of the World Health Organization’s Global TB Programme, told The Huffington Post. “We’ve never had enough political commitment before.”

Tuberculosis, which this autumn re-entered the list of the 10 leading causes of death worldwide, killed 1.8 million people in 2015, according to the WHO’s latest Global Tuberculosis Report.

“It’s shameful that despite being curable, TB remains the world’s leading infectious cause of death,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told HuffPost in a statement. “We welcome UNGA prioritization with a high-level meeting in 2018.”

Cheri Vincent, the chief of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Infectious Diseases Division, expressed a similar sentiment.

“We hope this meeting will galvanize the increased investments in TB needed to scale up the global response,” Vincent told HuffPost in a statement.

There is currently a $2 billion investment shortfall in low- and middle-income countries to fight TB, as well as a $1.3 billion gap in adequate research and development funding, according to the 2016 Global Tuberculosis Report.

Tuberculosis is treatable and curable, but the disease has not yet been eradicated. Global health advocates have for months been calling on the U.N. to hold a high-level meeting. One of the voices leading the effort has been Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, chair of the Stop TB Partnership Board and minister of health of South Africa, one of the countries most affected by TB.

The announcement of a planned meeting, plus a WHO global ministerial conference on the fight against TB planned for next November in Moscow, has energized the advocacy community.

“The high-level meeting shows that there is genuine global interest in TB, and if you had asked me six months ago, I would have never thought we would get to this stage this quickly,” said Matt Oliver, head of the Secretariat for the Global TB Caucus, a worldwide group of parliamentarians.

Dr. Lucicia Ditiu, executive director of the international Stop TB Partnership, was thrilled at the announcement, but emphasized that the current situation is a crisis that cannot wait two years for action. She said she hopes the high-level meeting successfully brings together not just parliamentarians and officials, but also community leaders and survivors in order to make it a truly unifying global effort.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity for TB’s defeat.”

- Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO Global TB Programme

For Eric Goosby, the United Nations special envoy on tuberculosis, this announcement is the culmination of years of advocates striving to highlight the deadly destruction of the disease.

“I hope we can capitalize on this exciting moment,” he said. “The increased awareness of TB is coming together at the same time that therapeutic, diagnostic and preventative interventions are available that need to be implemented.”

Goosby also pointed out that the meeting should help focus public interest and accountability on a worldwide scale, in a way that has not happened thus far.

“There’s some skepticism on whether the U.N. can achieve change. And if you’ve got the world’s deadliest disease and you can’t do something about it, despite having had a cure ― what can you do?” Oliver said. “We’re about to find out.”

Alissa Scheller created the infographic for this report.

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