Historic commitments to fight tuberculosis at the UN
I am writing to you from New York City (NYC) at the second-ever United Nations High-Level Meeting (UN HLM) on Tuberculosis (TB), where world leaders have made new commitments and set bold new targets to end this centuries-old pandemic. As I watched presidents and ministers take the stage, I was thinking of how each of you — our dedicated grassroots advocates and partners around the world — helped make this moment possible. And it will be your continued advocacy that helps turn today’s proclamations into real impact.
While TB so rarely captures front page headlines, you have kept this deadly disease front and center for our decision-makers. Your advocacy moved over one third of the U.S. senate (34 senators to be exact) to take a stand for bold action at this HLM in a letter to President Biden. You also convinced over 100 representatives in the House to send their own letter to the White House. The members of Congress who signed these letters come from across the political spectrum. Your advocacy transcended partisan politics — and none of you need me to tell you just how rare that is in Washington today.
I’ve had copies of those letters with me in NYC all week — handing them out to members of parliament and ministers from around the world, with pages of signatures showing the support of the U.S. Congress.
Answering the call of that letter, President Biden’s Administration unveiled a new TB initiative today. The announcement includes a new lower price for lifesaving testing and drugs, new funding to accelerate progress in key countries, a pledge to direct half of all TB funding to local partners in the next four years, and more.
The U.S. has also joined other world leaders in signing a new UN declaration pledging to reach 45 million people with quality TB treatment and testing. This effort will help address one of the most pernicious and consistent equity issues with TB — connecting all people with the testing and treatment they deserve.
TB programs were a critical platform for the COVID-19 response over the last few years, but resource diversion from TB to COVID-19 allowed TB to soar. TB claims more lives than any infectious disease on the planet. We also know that people facing the oppressive conditions of poverty are forced to bear the heaviest burden from TB. Malnutrition, global conflict, stigma, crowded housing, and cramped workplaces all increase TB cases and deaths, and they are all causes and consequences of poverty.
Despite all this, there is good news. Even in the face of setbacks from COVID-19, we’ve seen many countries not just claw back lost progress — but actually surge ahead in their work against TB. The latest data show that last year is likely the best in history in terms of people accessing quality testing and treatment.
We also finally have an array of new tools to make diagnosis and treatment faster and safer. There is even a new vaccine in the pipeline. But we need to ensure that everyone has access to these tools! We can’t squander this new momentum and global ambition. And I know that you are going to make sure we don’t.
Since January, you have moved over 215 members of Congress to take action in some way on TB, including almost half of the Senate. Thirty-eight of those lawmakers had never been moved to act on TB before your work this year, 24 of whom were brand new to Congress — and thanks to you they’ve become new TB allies and champions. I also see you working to publish media on TB to show lawmakers the depth of support for action. I know you continue to meet with your members of Congress, urging them to co-sponsor the End TB Now Act and highlighting the new data from the Global Fund showing what’s still needed against TB.
And your work in the U.S. is part of an even bigger advocacy movement with our partners around the world. Our partners are mobilizing parliamentarians and ministers in each of their countries across Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, and North America. Hundreds of members of Parliament engaged, a new coalition of world leaders focused on TB launched this week, and countries introduced bold new plans. And leadership from directly affected communities drove these new steps, in collaboration with advocacy partners around the world.
We will need all of this collective effort — because while today’s meeting was an important step forward, there is far more needed to actually match these declarations with the resources and action to make them real.
Thank you for all that you do.