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UN General Assembly adopts first-ever political agenda for ending tuberculosis epidemic

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The Union calls on governments to begin acting now.

The first-ever United Nations (UN) High-Level Meeting (HLM) on Ending Tuberculosis (TB) produced a historic Political Declaration, with specific, measurable milestones to achieve by 2022.

By adopting this declaration, national leaders have said they recognise TB as a challenge they are essential to solving. They have committed to taking specific actions. The day to begin implementing this new agenda begins now.

One of the most important aspects of the declaration is that it puts all heads of state and government on record supporting a new approach to ending TB based on human rights. This means TB laws, public policies and health practices will need to dramatically change from the past.

For example, children with TB have been widely neglected by health systems, in part because small children sick with TB do not transmit the infection to others—leading them to receive lower priority than infectious adults when it comes to delivering TB prevention, diagnosis and care. The human-rights-based TB agenda sends a clear signal that such scandalous practices will no longer be tolerated at any level of the response.

Human rights need to be the over-arching framework for all TB and lung health issues. We need to ensure that an individual’s gender, age, economic status, ethnicity or their existing health issues are not allowed to be barriers to healthcare and that particular needs for these individuals are met. The upcoming 49th Union World Conference on Lung Health will continue to push this agenda under the theme of Declaring Our Rights: Social and Political Solutions.

The new agenda will also require a revolution in TB prevention. Worldwide today, very few people who are exposed to TB infection in their own homes are provided preventive therapy to protect them from becoming sick with the disease. Among children under age five who are living with an adult who has been diagnosed with TB, less than one in four receive TB preventive therapy and less than half of people living with HIV are started on TB preventive treatment. With new targets for preventing TB, national leaders have committed to an unprecedented effort to prevention.

Leaders have also committed to taking all necessary actions to deliver modern tools needed to prevent, diagnose and treat TB, including support for innovative approaches to research such as The Life Prize. Having these new tools is absolutely critical to ending the epidemic.

Achieving the ambitious goals set out in the new agenda will take new investments in research and care. Here, too, leaders have committed to meeting specific targets for financing, including investing US $2 billion annually in TB research and US $13 billion annually in TB care.

Will leaders be accountable for carrying out the agenda they have committed to?

It’s the most important question lingering since the close of the High-Level Meeting. Despite clear requests from The Union and our partners, the TB political declaration included no commitments to a robust and independent mechanism for ensuring accountability for action. In its absence, we will continue working with our members and partners around the world to establish a mechanism for monitoring progress and holding governments accountable for delivering on their commitments.