On 24 March we mark World TB Day. On this day, we appreciate efforts made towards ending TB, a killer disease, and highlight further action that is needed to defeat this life-threatening disease. Efforts have been made to combat the spread of TB through the development of new tools and commodities, increasing global and domestic financing, and mobilizing the required political will to end the disease. This year, we mark the day amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which in 12 months has eliminated 12 Years of Progress in the Global Fight Against Tuberculosis. The response to the COVID-19 pushed aside tuberculosis outreach and services, resulting in 20% drop in diagnosis and treatment worldwide. Urgent recovery is needed.
In 2018, at the first-ever United Nations High-Level Meeting on TB, world leaders agreed upon a political declaration, United to end tuberculosis: an urgent response to a global epidemic, pledging to increase their efforts to fight Tuberculosis. Heads of Government and States agreed on global targets. The 2022 deadline for the achievement of these targets is fast approaching, but the UN Secretary General’s 2020 report posits that progress is too little and too slow and there is a divide between commitments that have been made and the realities experienced on the ground.
Parallel to the UNSG report, TB-affected communities and civil society produced A Deadly Divide: TB Commitments vs TB Realities. The report and its accompanying Call to Action call on UN Member States to update, fund, and operationalize the TB response to reflect the priorities of those most affected by the disease. Governments should guarantee the meaningful engagement of TB-affected communities and civil society at every step in the process.
TB remains a major obstacle to attaining the SDG vision of health, development, and prosperity for all, especially in sub Saharan Africa. There is need for additional funding for research on TB and new tools to prevent, diagnose, and treat TB are urgently required.
There is an opportunity to leverage COVID-19 infrastructure and investments to improve the TB response, integrate TB and COVID-19 testing and tracing, and strengthen efforts to overcome the barriers that people continue to face when accessing TB services.
This World TB Day 2021 we emphasize that “The Clock is Ticking”, and it is time for Governments, and the international community to fulfil commitments towards defeating TB. Governments should engage communities in planning and implementing strong, integrated TB and COVID-19 mitigation and response measures. Further, Governments should review, update, and implement TB policies by the end of 2022 to align with the latest WHO and internationally recognized guidelines and participate in the next Step Up for TB survey on TB policies.
In addition, there is a need to increase financing for TB prevention and care, innovations in care delivery, research and development, including for new TB vaccines to prevent the development of TB disease. The Government should then implement the UN Political Declaration on TB by December 2022, outlining progress and next steps, and expressing support for the UN Secretary-General’s proposal to hold a follow-up High-Level Meeting on TB in 2023.
It is time to take urgent action to get back on track and accelerate collective efforts to fulfil the 2022 UN targets on TB to defeat the disease and save lives. The commitments made, and targets set by Heads of State and other leaders to accelerate action to end TB must be kept even in crisis and should be backed by adequate investments. This will help to protect the lives of millions of people suffering from TB and to prevent further loss of gains made in the fight against TB. Not one more person should die from TB because it is a preventable and treatable disease.
Executive Director, Hope for Future Generations
Ghana Focal Person for Global Fund Advocates Africa
Developing NGO Delegation to the Global Fund Board.
Member, SWAA Ghana and NSA Ghana.