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Calls for action at historic TB meeting

President Cyril Ramaphosa will join other world leaders today (September 26th) to decide on how to fight TB: the world’s, and South Africa’s, deadliest infectious disease.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has called on Ramaphosa to reverse the “sluggish global progress in combatting TB” by making decisive commitments at the first-ever United Nations High-Level Meeting on TB taking place in New York on Wednesday.

“78 000 people in South Africa died of TB in 2017, and while this is fewer than estimated for the previous year, TB treatment coverage remains low at 68 percent, meaning that up to one third of all people living with TB are being missed,” said MSF’s Dr Amir Shroufi.

He said that while the country has shown leadership in the TB fight, significant gaps still remain.

The organisation is calling on the South African government to commit to closing these gaps including registering one of only a handful of new medications to treat drug-resistant forms of the disease: delamanid.

While South Africa was the first country to include the blockbuster anti-TB drug bedaquiline in routine treatment, delamanid remains largely inaccessible to patients.

“South Africa has done well to improve the [drug-resistant TB] treatment regimen for adults and adolescents, but new strategies are urgently needed for ensuring that younger children have access to better treatment. This situation would be improved in the very short term by the registration of delamanid, which has proven to be safe in the paediatric population,” said Dr Justine Fargher, who treats drug-resistant TB patients for MSF in Khayelitsha.

Ramaphosa and political leadership for TB fight

The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease praised Ramaphosa’s participation at the meeting.

“It is especially encouraging to see leadership from the Africa region, where the rates of TB are the highest in the world,” said the Union’s Paul Jensen.

The United Nations represents 193 nations yet only 32 heads of state have so-far been confirmed to attend the meeting.

Despite TB being preventable and curable, it killed 1.6 million people around the world in 2017 and is ranked as the number-one infectious disease killer.

MSF’s Sharonann Lynch urged governments to make TB a “political priority”.

“How is it possible that more than sixty years ago we managed to send people to the moon and to the deepest point in the ocean, yet people affected with one of the most ancient diseases in human history continue to suffer and die because we’ve failed to find a fast, safe and simple cure for TB? World leaders this week must show some spine and take collective responsibility to fight this global health emergency, so we don’t keep losing one fellow human to TB every 18 seconds,” she said. – Health-e News

An edited version of this story was published by