Address by the Regional Director at the Ministerial Meeting towards Ending TB in the South-East Asia Region

15-16 March 2017, New Delhi, India

Honorable Ministers from South-East Asia Region and distinguished representatives; Dr Ren Minghui, WHO Assistant Director General and esteemed partners and experts; Dr Mark Dybul, Executive Director, The Global Fund; Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director, Stop TB Partnership; and colleagues,

It is my privilege to welcome you to this important meeting.

We are gathered today to explore how we can further ‘bend the curve’ and end TB in the South-East Asia Region – a goal of critical importance to all countries of the region borne out by the presence of the Ministers from nine countries of the Region.

I fully appreciate the range of public health issues the South-East Asia Region is facing. In this real world – battered by old as well as new threats – each country has several health priorities. But my plea to you is that we make ending TB an important priority in our Region for the coming decade, particularly in the 6 to 8 countries with high rates of TB.

Reaching our goal of ending TB is paramount for health and development across the Region.

I know many of you are already convinced of this. The evidence is clear. Indeed, it has come into sharper focus with the national population-based TB surveys that so many countries in the Region have recently invested in.

We now know that more than half the Region’s countries have some of the world’s highest TB burdens, and that rates of new TB cases in several of them exceed all but those in sub-Saharan Africa.

We now know that among infectious diseases TB is the Region’s leading cause of death and lost productive years in the crucial 15-49 year age group. The toll is most severe on men.

We know that in four of the Region’s countries TB is among the top two causes of mortality and lost working years in the productive age group, outstripping every non-infectious condition but ischemic heart disease.

We know that TB – like HIV – disproportionately affects adults in their most productive, vital years, causing catastrophic expenses and financial losses, and even outright impoverishment of individuals and households, with massive aggregate costs to national economies.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

This enormous suffering is the fundamental reason why ending TB must be a central priority for the coming decade, both in highly affected countries and the Region as a whole.

Importantly, countries with low TB burdens have already shown what is needed.

First and foremost, the full commitment and determination of political leaders, beginning with ministers of health, so that TB is handled as a key national health and development issue.

Second, adequate financing for national TB efforts, so that comprehensive programmes can be scaled up to achieve universal access, and can reach each and every individual at risk.

Third, the application of best practices in taking comprehensive TB treatment and prevention programmes to universal scale, at the same time as improving quality and making them genuinely ‘people-centered’.

Fourth, the rapid adoption of advances in diagnostics and medicines, so that opportunities to accelerate progress are seized.

And last, but crucially, the political determination to tackle poverty, malnutrition, substandard health care services, poor living conditions and other socio-economic factors that fuel TB and cripple effective treatment. Within this, the need for financial support to non-affluent patients being treated with TB cannot be over-emphasized.

Indeed, there is no doubt that TB can be ended in each of the Region’s countries by embarking on an urgent and extraordinary response matched by corresponding investments in TB programmes. Our technical team will detail the best roadmaps for this Region in their presentations, with a special focus on how we can strengthen systems to support TB spending, and how we can reappraise TB funding requirements.

So that WHO can fully support your efforts in this last crucial stretch, over and above the support already provided by the Regional office and the Stop-TB programme, WHO South-East Asia is now supporting and advocating for funding of three areas: aiding fast-track implementation, supporting innovation, and translating innovation to implementation. These funds will prove instrumental to the success of our joint mission.

I take this opportunity to note the fruitful deliberations you have already had this morning, and the important topics already discussed, including

(i) the scientific modelling already performed, which demonstrates how our strategies can accelerate progress,

(ii) the need to address research gaps and integrate cutting-edge innovations with national programmes. I am told there was a lot of interest from delegates and partners on this subject.

I also hear that discussions on the Call for Action were held, and that feedback from country delegations have been incorporated. I encourage further input, if any, to ensure the document truly represents your commitment.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Many of us have dedicated decades to public health. Decades in which we’ve seen several big breakthroughs in our field; breakthroughs that benefited millions of children and adults alike. But if we can look back a decade from now and see that we helped bring TB to an end it will be an achievement of immense pride. By meeting the Region’s End TB goals we will have prevented nearly 9 million deaths and more than 50 million infections.

We have the power to make this happen.

I wish this meeting success and hope that it is remembered as a historic one – a landmark event in the Region’s efforts towards ending TB, which seems a real possibility; an achievable goal rather than an optimistic slogan, and a turning point produced by your dedicated and far-sighted leadership.

Today and for the coming decade, let us make the battle against TB a central priority. Together we can – and must – end TB.

Thank you.