UN Special Envoy welcomes new commitment to fighting TB from African Health Ministers
3 September 2009 - Kigali, Rwanda -- In his remarks at the 59th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa Dr Jorge Sampaio, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Stop TB, praised African health ministers for progress they have made on TB, particularly on integrating TB and HIV services; while at the same time urging stronger leadership on TB.
The Special Envoy presented participants with four requests. "First, please be ambitious!" he said. "Set ambitious national targets and mobilize the funding necessary to reduce the number of people living with HIV who die unnecessarily of TB."
Second, he asked the gathered ministers to focus on the need for joint efforts, which are much more likely to produce results than isolated moves. "Therefore, mobilize HIV-affected communities, broader civil society and the private sector for a response to tuberculosis; and educate and empower them to become active partners in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of TB," he said.
The third request concerned drug-resistant TB. Very few people with drug-resistant TB are receiving correct diagnosis or appropriate treatment, he said. "Ministers, as you know, a drug-resistant epidemic is a serious threat to all your efforts! Don’t hesitate to press the international community to support your efforts."
As a final request, President Sampaio asked participants to consider the need for an initiative akin to the soon-to-be-launched African Leaders Malaria Alliance. "Why don’t we start working to launch a similar initiative for TB in September next year? Think about it!"
In the course of this special session on TB control, participants looked at progress achieved since the 2005 Regional Committee's African TB emergency declaration.
Several ministers made passionate interventions, notably about the potential threat of drug-resistant TB in the continent, the need to strengthen the laboratory network to better diagnose TB and to develop and build the capacity of health workers to address all aspects of TB in the African Region. All expressed strong support for strengthening partnership across the region to fight TB.
Dr Luis Gomes Sambo, WHO Regional Director for the African Region, in his annual report to the Committee, highlighted key achievements in Africa as outlined in this year's WHO Global TB Control Report. Among them, the proportion of TB patients screened for HIV rose from 22% in 2006 to 38% by the end of 2007, and of those tested positive, 37.1% were started on ART, increasing from 27.3% in the previous year. Also, 89.1% of HIV positive TB patients were started on co-trimoxazole preventive therapy compared to 72.2% in the previous year's cohort.
The session capped off a mission by a high-level delegation of the Stop TB Partnership Coordinating Board and Dr Sampaio. The delegation included Dr Mario Raviglione, Director of the WHO Stop TB Department; Carol Nyirenda, Communities Delegate to the Stop TB Partnership Coordinating Board; Dr Jeremiah Chakaya, Vice Chair of the Board; and Dr Marcos Espinal, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership. Dr Hiro Nakatani, WHO Assistant Director-General for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases, supported the delegation and was present for a number of its activities.
President Sampaio and the Stop TB delegation took this opportunity to hold a series of meetings with the Ministers of Health of Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. The object of the meetings was to offer support and practical assistance from Stop TB Partners and WHO in delivery of national TB control agendas. Dr Sampaio also paid a visit to Rwanda's President, Paul Kagame.