The 47th Union World Conference on Lung Health concluded its four day programme under the theme “Confronting Resistance: Fundamentals to Innovations” on Saturday.
Over 3,000 participants came together from 126 countries to make Liverpool, UK, the heart of the global drive to rid the world of tuberculosis (TB) and address issues relating to lung health.
It opened spectacularly with fires tended by UK-based firefighters’ charity Operation Florian. These burned outside the conference to demonstrate the danger to health endured daily by half the world’s population that faces deadly disease, air pollution and physical injury because they are reliant on solid fuel fires for subsistence.
Safer and cleaner solar-powered cookstoves in the same display were an example of the ingenuity seen throughout the programme of the conference.
Stephen Lewis, the co-founder and co-director of AIDS-Free world, gave a fervent keynote address in the inaugural session:
“There is not a tenable reason on earth why we should lose nearly two million people to TB annually”, he said.
He spoke of the resistance the community faces in the fight against TB, but also of his sense that change is imminent.
This sense was supported by numerous scientific developments announced at the conference. These included the release of the final results of The Union’s observational study conducted in nine francophone countries of the nine-month regimen for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB).
The study’s results - a success rate of 82 percent - represent a breakthrough in defeating drug-resistant TB (DR-TB). Dr Paula I Fujiwara, Scientific Director of The Union said the results showed conclusively that this is “the most effective treatment for drug-resistant TB discovered to date.”
The conference saw also the presentation of data from a study using a three-drug regimen to treat extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB). Of the 50 patients enrolled in the trial, 33 participants have completed treated and culture converted; 13 participants are still in the treatment phase and four patients have died.
Dr Francesca Conradie described the results as ‘a phenomenal breakthrough’ and “the most rewarding protocol” on which she has worked.
TB survivors shared their testimonies at the conference, reminding all present that TB is curable and is a fight we must win. XDR-TB survivor Phumeza Tisile said:
“I survived the most dangerous form of TB, but while I was on treatment, I went deaf…so I am here to help raise awareness of the problems people with TB face.”
The will for political change was evident too. In a special Ministerial Session, Ministers of Health from Sri Lanka, The Philippines and Zimbabwe, committed to implementing the nine-month regimen. And parliamentarians gathered for the first meeting of the Global TB Caucus Executive Committee.
The Community Common continued to thrive after its initiation as Imbizo last year in Cape Town. Open to the public, it was a space of dynamic activity, resounding with voices from civil society and local organisations.
The Liverpool Homeless Football Club showcased their skills on a pitch set up on the piazza alongside the Find and Treat TB bus, a mobile clinical vehicle used by NHS Liverpool to reach at-risk people and treat TB.
Tobacco control was discussed throughout the conference, with tobacco industry interference in public health policy a theme common to all three presentations in this year’s tobacco control plenary.
In the rapporteur session the Coordinating Committee of Scientific Activities (CCSA) lead by CCSA Chair, Stacie Stender, summarised the extensive range and quantity of science presented at the conference.
Past Union President, Prof Bertie Squire, congratulated the CCSA on twitter for a great programme and the hours of time they give voluntarily to bring the programme together.
The Union membership came together during the conference and at the General Assembly passed plans to implement the biggest change to the organisation’s membership structure in its 96 years of activity.
Throughout the week The Union presented six awards at The Union World Conference and the General Assembly of members, all honouring contributions to tuberculosis and lung health. You can read a full list of those honoured here.
In the closing session of the conference, warm tribute was paid to both Prof Anthony Harries, who is stepping aside from his role as Director of Operational Research, and outgoing President of The Union, Dr Jane E Carter, who handed over responsibility to the new President, Dr Jeremiah Chakaya Muhwa.
The Executive Director of the Union, José Luis Castro said in his opening remarks at the WHO Global TB Symposium that preceded the conference:
“We all know when a community tries something different, it encounters resistance.
“Change is not easy, especially in the face of resistance, but if we work together and support each other, we can do it”.
The conference ended with the torch being passed to Guadalajara, Mexico, which will host the event next year.