Regional Director’s speech at the ‘Breaking the Barriers’ side-event on TB, co-hosted by Sri Lanka and WHO SEARO, at the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly

26 September 2018, New York, USA

Excellencies, distinguished dignitaries and partners, ladies and gentlemen,

I start with a simple but important fact: The WHO South-East Asia Region suffers disproportionately from TB.

Every year more than 650 000 people in our Region die from TB. More than four million develop it.

Over one-third of the world’s MDR-TB cases emerged from our Region – a trend that should concern us all given the regional and global risk MDR-TB entails.

The gravity of the situation can be measured by our Region’s treatment success rate for new and relapsed TB cases: It is only around 75%. For MDR-TB it is 50%. These are among the lowest success rates anywhere in the world.

But they do explain why our Region is home to more than half the world’s TB deaths, with mortality rates higher than anywhere else.

In acknowledging these facts, I also want to highlight another set of facts, which you may be aware of. And that is the drive and commitment the Region’s Member States have exhibited in recent years to End TB, and to do so by 2030 at the latest.

That drive and commitment began at a ministerial meeting in New Delhi in March 2017, where Member States issued the Delhi Call for Action. The Call for Action explicitly acknowledged the need for urgent and unprecedented efforts to turn the situation around.

At the same meeting I declared accelerating efforts to End TB by 2030 the Region’s eighth Flagship Priority, and guaranteed Member States WHO’s unflagging support in their efforts.

I am pleased to note that our momentum has continued. It continued with the participation of high-level delegations from our Region in Moscow in November 2017. And it continued in March of this year, at the high-level Delhi End TB summit.

At that summit progress since the previous year’s Call for Action was discussed and documented, while a Statement of Action was adopted. The Statement emphasized the need to hasten Region-wide progress, at the same time as providing ongoing leadership on the issue – precisely as we are today.

Which brings me to an important part of the discussion: financing. Even as domestic financing of TB programmes has increased across the Region, and in some cases even trebled, the estimated gap in investments for ending TB was more than USD 1.3 billion last year.

Delays in plugging this gap and matching Member State commitments will only compound the problem. They will also guarantee the need for greater investments in the future.

It pains me to say that in the 18 months that have passed since the Delhi Call for Action, international funding is yet to meet the Region’s needs.

But where there are gaps there is also opportunity. And there has never been a better time for development partners to support Member States and help translate our joint commitment into action.

I list three concrete ways this can be done.

First, since we know active case detection in high-risk groups is fundamental to ending TB, at least one country can make a joint road map that ensures missing cases are detected using diagnostic tools such as digital x-rays and genetic testing at the community level. I thank the Global Fund for their support in this regard.

Second, given the importance of managing latent TB infection, particularly in low prevalence countries, a time-bound action plan to cover all groups at risk of developing TB should be developed, especially to ensure last-mile challenges are overcome. I thank Stop TB Partnership for their unflagging efforts.

And third, all partners together can support the supply of first-line drugs via south-south cooperation, precisely as India has committed to doing. This will dramatically affect the chances of each of the Region’s Member States to achieve their goal and End TB for good by 2030.

As the Regional Director for WHO South-East Asia, I am committed to ensuring this happens. Indeed, as a Regional Office we are committed to supporting Member States achieve their ambition; realize each of our Flagship Priorities; and continue to foster the game-changing momentum we have developed to make TB history and end its menace once and for all.

Thank you very much.

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