[NAIROBI] A fresh offensive against tuberculosis (TB), including TB among people living with HIV, has been launched by health leaders from Africa and international agencies to help stem down the scourge.
The move saw leaders sign the Swaziland Statement on March 21, committing them to speed up progress against the two diseases in the next 1000 days and work with Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries to achieve the international targets of cutting deaths from TB and HIV-associated TB by half by 2015, compared to 1990 levels.
They declared a package of new investments and initiatives worth more than US $120 million.
“We did not gather here today (March 21) to underline the problem – we know the problem very well,” said Benedict Xaba, Minister of Health of Swaziland. “TB and HIV have combined together in the SADC region in a perfect storm and what we need to mobilise is an emergency response to this storm.”
Africa is not currently on track to achieve the international TB and HIV-associated TB mortality targets by 2015. According to the latest World Health Organisation data, around 600 000 people died from TB in Africa in 2011, accounting for 40 per cent of the global toll.
This means that Africa has now overtaken Asia – with its much higher population and number of TB cases – as the region with the greatest number of TB deaths. SADC countries are at the epicenter of the epidemic.
A major stumbling block to progress is the extremely high TB/HIV co-infection rate in Africa. In 2011, 80 per cent of the people living with HIV who fell ill with TB were in Africa. TB associated with the mining industry is also fueling the regional co-epidemic.
The proportion of people getting sick with TB is at least two and half times higher among miners than in the general population in South Africa and up to 20 times higher than the global average.
“TB remains a major cause of death in our sub-region and we will not defeat HIV without a concerted offensive against TB,” said Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Health of South Africa. “If HIV/AIDS and TB was a snake, I can assure you the head would be in here South Africa. And I’m repeating this to the mining sector – because mineworkers come from the whole sub-region; they come here to our mines to catch TB and HIV and take it back home.”
He said they must prioritise hot spots for action, and one of the hottest of these is TB in the mining industry adding that the partnerships witnessing witnessed during the Swaziland meeting today between government, the corporate sector, and global agencies can and must drive the renewed effort in the next 1000 days.
Dr Mphu Ramatlapeng, Vice-Chair of the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria announced that the Global Fund will commit US $102 million of new funding to TB programmes in SADC countries. The Global Fund is the largest international funding stream for TB, accounting for the great majority of 2011 donor funding for TB.
The Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, said that UNAIDS would make a bold call to action for Zero tolerance of parallel systems for delivery of HIV and TB services. “UNAIDS will support countries to ensure that every person is aware of their HIV status and is also tested for TB, and that all people co-infected with TB and HIV initiate TB and HIV treatment,” said Sidibe
He added that UNAIDS will advocate to close the financial gap and mobilise donors, partners and countries to secure resources and meet the TB/HIV target of halving the number of TB deaths in people living with HIV by 2015.
UNAIDS will provide focused support to the 10 countries most affected by TB and HIV, and work to overcome the stigma and discrimination that prevent people from getting tested and staying on treatment.
In addition, the Global Fund has committed US $741 million for HIV programmes in SADC countries. This funding will support TB-HIV activities such as providing antiretroviral therapy to TB patients who are HIV positive.
According to Sarah Dunn, DfID Head for Southern Africa, DfID will provide US $220 000 for catalytic, short term programme management support to be provided as matched funds for a similar or larger contribution from the private mining sector and other partners.
Ochieng’ Ogodo is a Nairobi based journalist whose works have been published in various parts of the world including Africa, the US and Europe. He is the English-speaking Africa and Middle East region winner for the 2008 Reuters-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He is the chairman of the Kenya Environment and Science Journalists Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org