The Commonwealth Secretariat’s Health Section is exploring ways to partner with international organisations to contribute to the eradication of tuberculosis (TB), which currently affects 8.8 million people worldwide.
TB is closely linked to poverty and HIV infection and impacts on many Commonwealth countries: of the 10 countries with the highest new TB cases per 100,000 population, seven are in the Commonwealth. The largest national population living with TB in 2010 (3.1 million) was India.
Dr Mbololwa Mbikusita-Lewanika, Health Adviser at the Secretariat, said that World Tuberculosis Day, which falls on 24 March 2012, was a prime opportunity to highlight the disease.
“This year’s theme ‘Stop TB in my lifetime’ reminds us that eradicating the disease is not just an aspirational slogan, but a reality that can be achieved,” she said.
The Secretariat will be hosting a day-long consultative programme in London on 23 March to consider what interventions the Commonwealth can make.
Earlier this month, Dr Mbikusita-Lewanika attended a regional meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, focusing on TB in the mining sector. Because of crowded working and living conditions, silica dust in the mines and other factors, miners are particularly vulnerable to TB, she said.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) consultation was supported by the Stop TB Partnership, the World Bank, the International Organization for Migration and other partners, including the Commonwealth Secretariat, in developing a declaration on TB to identify priority areas for action in the region.
Dr Mbikusita-Lewanika said: “The Commonwealth is in a unique position to broker meaningful partnerships. The Commonwealth includes member states with some of the highest TB and TB/HIV prevalence rates in the world, as well as member states with significant mining operations.”
Because of its link to poverty and HIV/AIDS TB is also prevalent in prisons due to overcrowded conditions. Women are particularly susceptible to TB because of their disproportionate vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, while TB is a significant killer of children because their immune systems are not fully developed and because diagnostic tools and drug treatments are not child-friendly.
In Perth in 2011, Commonwealth Heads of Government highlighted the need for addressing prevalent diseases such as TB in their Communiqué.