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Union statement on the 2020 WHO Global TB Report

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The Union's statement on the World Health Organization Global Tuberculosis Report 2020

The latest Global Tuberculosis Report has been launched by the World Health Organization (WHO). José Luis Castro, Executive Director of The Union responds:

"On the one hand the WHO Global Tuberculosis Report confirms what we unfortunately have suspected - that COVID-19 has the potential to dramatically reverse the encouraging progress being made in preventing the world’s biggest infectious disease killer – with ongoing restrictions making it difficult for people with tuberculosis (TB) to access and continue treatment.

"While many people around the world are witnessing first-hand the hardship and disruption that an infectious disease can cause, for those of us dedicated to ending TB and lung disease globally, this is in many ways familiar territory.

"Millions of people’s lives are at stake in the short-term, and in the long-term they also potentially face the risk for developing new drug resistance to TB, with much poorer outcomes. We cannot forget communities in low- and middle-income countries that are being doubly hit by the pandemic and the crisis of TB.

"At the same time, the WHO report’s cautionary tone demonstrates that our collective failure to invest in the health of our citizens and defeat preventable, treatable and curable diseases such as TB, has by default also left us so terribly exposed to COVID-19.

"A new report being released next week by a team of researchers at Harvard University and the University of California, San Francisco, that includes the former UN Special Envoy on TB Eric Goosby, at the 51st Union World Conference on Lung Health (convened by The Union), will say that the economic and human cost of not ending TB by the UN target of 2030 and instead the more likely date of 2045, will be to the order of some US$3 trillion. This figure includes losses in income growth and the societal value of some 5.7 million avoidable TB deaths in 120 countries. COVID-19 has certainly made that the more likely scenario; even a brief shut down in TB programmes because of the SARS-CoV2 pandemic is likely to have calamitous epidemiologic and economic consequences.

"The novel coronavirus has been a bitter pill to swallow, but the lesson hardest learned must be this: understanding and accepting that investment in health systems is investment in pandemic preparedness."