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The Director's Corner

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In 2018, the boundless passion and dedication of our staff, members and partners contributed to historic advances. As we move into 2019, we must continue to push for human-centred responses to global health emergencies and work to ensure world leaders hear us – and take action.

A message from the Executive Director, José Luis Castro

This past year we saw those at the highest levels of government confirm what we all know – that people everywhere have an undeniable right to health. The first ever United Nations High-Level Meeting (UN HLM) on tuberculosis (TB) garnered attention from world leaders, who are finally on the record committing to a human rights based response to ending the TB epidemic

As I look back at our accomplishments from 2018 and before, I am proud to see that The Union’s work has had people at its heart from the beginning.

Throughout the year we campaigned against the gross neglect of children with TB. The publication of the Union report, Silent Epidemic: A Call to Action Against Child TB, brought this inexcusable deficiency in our TB control efforts to the fore. As this advocacy tool received international media attention, The Union leant its expertise to the development of a new child TB roadmap to guide countries in their child and adolescent TB responses.

Two Union projects – DETECT and TITI - working to reduce the TB detection gap in this vulnerable population released results, presenting strong evidence for simple and effective methods to identify children at risk of TB, treat those who need it and provide preventive therapy to others. Stories of the children and their families affected by these two projects in Uganda and Benin were shared through a photography exhibition during the 49th Union World Conference on Lung Health.

Our conference put people front and centre, like Angelina, a nine-year old TB survivor from South Africa who I had the honour to meet. The conference theme Declaring our Rights: Social and Political Solutions, focused conversations around the rights of Angelina and people like her to receive swift and effective treatment, without the burden of economic hardship or stigma.

Other highlights at the Union World Conference included the announcement of several ground-breaking scientific advancements: a simple new method for diagnosing TB in children; findings on the efficacy of using new TB drug Bedaquiline to treat extensively drug resistant TB; and an update on a potential vaccine to prevent TB in adults.

The 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH), for which The Union is Secretariat, brought leaders in tobacco control together under the theme Uniting the World for a Tobacco Free Generation, which recognised the need for an internationally collaborative response to protect the world from the harms of tobacco.

The Union has supported governments and civil society to enact tobacco control policies that protect their populations since 2006. In addition to that ongoing work, we and two partner organisations were selected to co-lead a new US $20 million project to crack down on industry interference, serving as a global watchdog and building tools to help countries effectively counter the industry’s duplicitous tactics.

Our team of thousands of members, over 850 staff, 25,000 rural health care providers, 15,000 community volunteers and thousands of partner organisations worldwide continued to work tirelessly to ensure we implement human-centred solutions to global health problems.

Our projects reconfirm our commitment to these values every day. In Myanmar, The Union provided antiretroviral therapy to some 30,000 people living with HIV and provided TB information, screening and services to thousands of others. In India, Project Axshya worked through an extensive network of regional and local partners and to place 70,000 people on TB treatment since 2010. Our offices in Uganda, DR Congo and Zimbabwe worked with national programmes to ensure services reach high-risk populations like miners, children, and people living with HIV and diabetes. And in China, Singapore, Mexico and our Paris Headquarters, we coordinated education and training programmes, delivered technical assistance, conducted research and published journals supporting our common goal to reduce the burden of lung health.

Through our 10 offices worldwide and our members in 147 countries, The Union became a leading voice in our community – calling for the recognition of everyone’s right to health that our work has demonstrated for over nearly a century.

This powerful network of Union staff, consultants, members and partners will prove invaluable as we enter 2019, a year in which we must ensure our hard-won progress carries forward, as we hold governments accountable to their commitments and demand promises translate into action for people everywhere.