World TB Day Commemoration

Remarks by Ambassador Lisa Peterson at the World TB Day Commemoration.

Every March 24, we recognize World Tuberculosis Day, – a day when organizations from around the world Unite to End TB by calling attention to the continued threat of this ancient and deadly disease and what’s needed to eradicate it. Despite decades of efforts and significant progress in the fight against TB, it still kills more people than any other infectious disease. Today, 2 billion people – one fourth of the world’s population – are infected with TB worldwide, with more than 10 million becoming ill from the disease and at risk for transmitting it to others.

Tuberculosis is a serious challenge to global health, safety, and security. It spreads through the air from person to person and respects no borders.   The good news is that in the past 15 years, the number of deaths from tuberculosis has fallen 47 percent, a global health achievement that translates to 43 million lives saved worldwide. However, our progress is met with the sobering fact that as forms of TB become resistant to our best drugs, we are facing a future where TB is no longer curable.  If we do not go beyond current efforts to contain drug-resistant TB, by 2050 there will be an additional 75 million deaths from drug-resistant TB at a cost to the global economy of $17 trillion. That’s why the U.S. government, through the PEPFAR program, is partnering with 25 countries to find, cure, and prevent TB across the globe.  As antimicrobial resistance continues to be a threat to global health security, it is critical for countries to understand the magnitude of drug resistance.  Both the TB and HIV Drug Resistance Surveys that Swaziland is currently conducting will play a critical role in addressing the effectiveness of regimens prescribed for TB and/or HIV patients.

With a TB/HIV co-infection rate of greater than 70% in Swaziland, we talk of uniting to end both TB and HIV as one battle that cannot be won unless the other is equally addressed.  We have seen encouraging declines in TB in Swaziland since the widespread use of antiretroviral therapy to treat HIV.  The U.S. government is pleased to see that its support to the Global Fund and PEPFAR are making a difference. The overarching goal of the PEPFAR/Swaziland program is to support the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland’s plan to control the HIV and TB epidemics and to reverse their impact.   Last Thursday, PEPFAR/Swaziland submitted its country operational plan for the next fiscal year and if approved we will receive almost E900 million to continue our collaboration.

As we strive towards a Swaziland free of TB, good quality research has been a cornerstone of all interventions.  Swaziland has shown great initiative and resolve in strengthening capacity to conduct clinical research as is evidenced by clinical studies performed by the Ministry of Health and MSF.  This research on improved management of patients with multi-drug resistant TB with a short course regimen is poised to greatly contribute to global evidence on TB and HIV prevention and care and influence WHO treatment recommendations.  Swaziland recently became the 2nd country on the continent to develop a TB Research Plan as required by the WHO END-TB Strategy.  We commend the Ministry of Health for the hard work and dedication towards ensuring policy-making is evidence-based. Studies conducted by various public health programs with partners are critical for strategic planning and resource allocation.

To counter the growing threat that TB poses to the world, we must work through partnerships in the public and private sector to not only scale-up our proven interventions, but to also invest in game-changers in diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.   Too many people still suffer from tuberculosis. Efforts to improve awareness, testing, and treatment of latent TB infection and TB disease among high-risk groups are critical to eliminate TB.  So is the need to know your HIV status, and if positive, to start on antiretroviral therapy.

World TB Day is an opportunity to recognize our achievements in tuberculosis prevention and control, and renew our commitment to eliminating this devastating disease in Swaziland. Government, health care workers, and community organizations, especially those serving at-risk populations, have a critical role in TB elimination.  Let’s Unite to End TB!

Thank you