Secretariat 'well-placed' to fight tuberculosis

29 March 2012

Experts in tuberculosis (TB) have said that the Commonwealth Secretariat is well-placed to provide leadership in strengthening public awareness of the disease, which can be fatal if left untreated.

TB affects around 9 million people every year, many of whom live in the Commonwealth.

To consider what interventions it can make to help prevent the spread of TB, the Secretariat hosted a consultative programme on World Tuberculosis Day, 23 March, under the theme ‘Stop TB in my lifetime’.

TB experts spoke on the current issues, challenges and opportunities in the fight against TB at the Secretariat’s Marlborough House headquarters in London, UK.

Dr Magna Aidoo, Head of Health at the Secretariat, said: “Just as we have diversity in the Commonwealth, we also have diversity in terms of disease burden, health system development and ability to address global and national health threats.

“We have gathered to focus on tuberculosis, a disease which though ancient, is still ravaging parts of the world and the Commonwealth in particular.”

Anyone can get TB, but the disease is strongly linked to poverty and poor living conditions, often striking vulnerable and marginalised groups and people living with HIV.

Dr Mbololwa Mbikusita-Lewanika, Health Adviser at the Secretariat, said: “The TB burden is highest in developing countries and particularly acute in the Africa region, representing a large proportion of the Commonwealth. TB is therefore of great concern to the Commonwealth.”

Participants at the consultation agreed that the Secretariat could play a pivotal role in moving the TB agenda forward and advocate on the issue. Despite staggering statistics on the impact of TB on health areas, awareness and funding of TB initiatives is not close to that of HIV/AIDS, and the ‘TB messages’ not as strong or attention-grabbing.

TB can be treated by administering a six-month course of drugs costing as little as US$25.

Professor Ibrahim Abubakar, Head of TB Section and Lead Epidemiologist, Health Protection Agency, and Joel Spicer, Senior Strategist at Stop TB Partnership, each spoke during the consultation.

There was also a panel discussion that included input from: journalist and TB survivor Peter Moszynski; Fellow in Law and Director of Studies at the University of Cambridge, UK, Dr Sarah Steele; lecturer and film-maker at Yale University, USA, Jonathan Smith; and TB-HIV patient-advocate Michael Gwaba.

Over a million and a half people die from TB every year and of the 10 countries with the highest new TB cases, seven are in the Commonwealth. The largest national population living with TB in 2010 (3.1 million) was in India.

Commonwealth Heads of Government at their biennial meeting in Perth, Australia, in October 2011 recognised the importance of addressing prevalent diseases such as TB.