This post is by Center Director Christine Lubinski:
Dr. Jorge Sampaio, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Stop TB and former President of Portugal, is in Washington this week to meet with key US government officials about the urgent need for enhanced U.S. leadership to battle global tuberculosis.
Dr. Sampaio invited a small group of global health advocates to brief him on the current climate in Washington and to offer advice about TB messages that might resonate with policymakers on Capitol Hill and in the Obama Administration.
Sampaio had just returned from a trip to Africa, where he met with a number of health ministers challenged by the high prevalence of tuberculosis in their countries. Those ministers were also worried about the economic downturn and its impact both on resources for health in their own countries and the potential impact on donor support. Of particular concern is the budget shortfall at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria—the single largest source of funding for TB programs in developing nations.
Anxiety about the availability of adequate resources comes at a time when African nations are taking big steps forward in building the healthcare infrastructure essential to responding to TB and other infectious disease killers, according to Sampaio. Ethiopia’s efforts to train 40,000 community health workers are well underway. And Rwanda has made great progress in integrating HIV and TB services, but lacks the $500,000 necessary to bring its laboratory capacity up to the level necessary to deal with deadly drug-resistant TB.
Sampaio spoke eloquently about what he called the “paradox of HIV/TB co-infection”—the successful expansion of access to lifesaving HIV treatment to millions, only to have these patientsm die from a completely curable infection, tuberculosis. It has the makings, he said, of a “colossal tragedy.”
I joined leaders from RESULTS, Global Health Council, PATH, CSIS, CGD, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in noting the absence of political leadership on tuberculosis within the Obama Administration. We also outlined the unfortunate (and odd) way in which policy makers seem to only see TB as a subset of US activities on HIV and labeled yesterday’s investment and disease of interest, when in fact, significant investments in TB have not yet been made!
Advocates called tuberculosis “unfinished business” and spoke to the wisdom of making TB part of a larger core health systems investment, highlighting the current effective tools that have not yet been fully deployed while acknowledging drugs, diagnostics and vaccines in the pipeline that could dramatically improve the response to this ancient scourge.
Dr. Sampaio had already had a productive meeting with Dr. Eric Goosby, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, who really understands tuberculosis and HIV/TB co-infection. Next on the UN envoy’s agenda was a session with Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of NIAID, who has publicly called for a transformative response to tuberculosis. We hope that his time in Washington is fruitful and that enhanced US leadership to combat global tuberculosis becomes a reality.