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The Director's Corner

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We must commemorate Nelson Mandela by committing to ending TB and AIDS 

A message from José Luis Castro, Executive Director, The Union

Nelson Mandela would have been 100 on 18 July 2018. It is truly fitting that this centenary occasion falls just days in advance of the International AIDS Conference (IAS2018) in Amsterdam, where the tuberculosis (TB) and AIDs communities will be pushing for concerted action on these twin epidemics that still ravage our world.

Mandela was a TB survivor. He contracted the disease in 1988, while serving a 27-year prison term in Pollsmoor Prison, Cape Town. Ironically, he was one of the lucky ones. For too many others, TB is a killer. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that TB is the cause of one-third of the 1.5 million AIDS deaths annually and continues to kill an estimated 1.7 million people and infect over 10 million. According to the WHO, the risk of developing TB is estimated to be up to 27 times greater in people living with HIV than among those without HIV infection. When someone has both HIV and TB, each disease conflates the other – with catastrophic results.

In an opinion piece for the Mail and Guardian in South Africa – Nelson Mandela’s words about SA’s deadly twin epidemics ring as true today as they did in 2004 – I emphasise the impossibility of winning the battle against AIDS if we do not also fight TB. Mandela’s own comments on this issue, when he directly addressed delegates at the International AIDS Conference in Bangkok in 2004, stressed that it should not be this way, that progress was possible. He said, “We have known how to cure TB for more than 50 years. What we have lacked is the will and the resources to quickly diagnose people with TB and get them the treatment they need.”

Mandela’s experiences and his willingness to speak out about them, created an international response that prioritised a joint, global effort against TB and HIV, as an integrated co-epidemic. Now South Africa is one of many countries worldwide that is committed to working to end these co-epidemics by 2030, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.

On 22 July, I will be speaking at TB2018 – the IAS2018 pre-conference event that will convene under the theme Bridging the TB and HIV Communities. I will be asking how we engage the essential political will needed to accelerate the TB response and how we generate tangible, sustainable resources and financing, invested in essential new drug research and development. One of the critical moments for galvinising action will be the United Nations first ever High-Level Meeting on TB in New York on 26 September. This meeting must address the key asks from the TB community and deliver – finally – the political commitment that Mandela called for nearly 15 years ago. It is crucial that we do not wait any longer.

Read the TB2018 programme.

Stats are from the WHO Global Tuberculosis Report.