Interview: Craig David and Dr Marcos Espinal, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership

24 March 2010--British pop star Craig David has been appointed Goodwill Ambassador against Tuberculosis. In the following interview he and Dr Marcos Espinal, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership, talk about his new role and the current status of the tuberculosis (TB) pandemic.

Q: Mr David, what prompted you to accept an appointment as Goodwill Ambassador against Tuberculosis for the Stop TB Partnership?

Craig David discusses TB with a woman in South Africa
WHO/Matthew Willman

Craig David: I have a strong personal commitment to helping people become more aware of the world's most pressing problems, especially health problems that are keeping people from realizing their potential. TB is one of those problems. It is a problem that has been with us for thousands of years, and still going strong. Nine million people are still becoming ill with TB every year, and nearly two million people die. TB is curable. And so I cannot accept that thousands of people are dying every day from a curable disease.

Q: Dr Espinal, this is a benchmark year for the Millennium Development Goals. Where do things stand with TB?

Marcos Espinal: The MDG for TB calls for halting and reversing the epidemic. Therefore by objective criteria, we have actually met this goal. Beginning in 2004 the percentage of the world's population that became ill with TB in a given year flattened and then began a slow decline. This gradual descent continued through 2008, the last year for which data are available.

This is a victory, but a fragile one. An upset -- and reversal -- of this decline is entirely possible. In addition it is not clear at this stage whether the MDG related targets of halving prevalence and deaths due to TB will be achieved by 2015. Therefore it is not enough to merely sustain the global fight against TB. We must step it up.

Q: Mr David, how do you think you can help fight TB?

CD: My new role as Goodwill Ambassador will give me the chance to energize the fight against TB through my music. I hope that people who feel inspired by music will also feel moved by what I have to say about TB. Through people's love of music we can raise awareness and support people affected by TB.

Q: The Stop TB Partnership has several initiatives in place to help countries raise awareness about TB and provide TB care. Can you tell us about those?

ME: The Partnership's Challenge Facility for Civil Society provides financial support to community-based organizations engaged in activities to raise TB awareness. Our Global Drug Facility, which supplies countries with high-quality drugs and diagnostics in the form of grants or at the lowest possible cost, has provided more than 16 million treatments since its creation in 2001. And our recently created TB REACH initiative seeks to increase TB case detection as early as possible and ensure timely treatment. It will focus on reaching people who currently have limited or no access to TB services from eligible countries, awarding individual grants of up to $1,000,000 annually. All these initiatives are in line with and support the WHO the Stop TB Strategy.

Q: Mr David, you travelled recently to South Africa on a fact-finding mission about TB. What would you say was the most important thing you learnt?

CD: I learnt that beyond treating the millions of people who get sick from TB, there is a far greater barrier we must break if we want to conquer it. It's a barrier of silence and shame. TB engenders social stigma in countries where it is widespread. Fear of contagion, lack of knowledge that TB can be cured and the failure of communities to discuss the disease openly all play a role in fuelling this fear. To fight TB effectively we need to break down those barriers and inspire people to think and act in new ways.

Q: This concept of a new way forward is the focus of this year's World TB Day campaign, is it not?

ME: That's right -- the theme for this year's campaign is Innovation. We want to draw people's attention to some important issues through this campaign. Elimination of TB is a distant, perhaps an impossible, goal if we do not bring new diagnostics, drugs and vaccines to market. There have been important advances in TB research over the past several years, but more resources are needed to turn scientific discoveries into new and better drugs, diagnostics and vaccines. And we need to study how to make TB services more accessible and efficient. Additionally, across the world one out of three people who become sick with TB fail to access timely, accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. We need innovative ways to reach those people. All women, men and children, no matter who they are or where they live, should have access to TB care.

The Stop TB Partnership

The Stop TB Partnership, which is hosted by WHO, comprises more than 1000 international organizations, countries, donors from the public and private sectors, and nongovernmental and governmental organizations that are working together to eliminate TB. The Partnership's Global Plan to Stop TB (2006-2015), which is underpinned by the WHO Stop TB Strategy, sets forth a roadmap for halving TB prevalence and deaths compared with 1990 levels by 2015.