Inaugural Session opens the 48th Union World Conference

In his keynote speech at Wednesday’s inaugural session, Dr Jeff Starke, Director of the Children’s Tuberculosis (TB) Clinic, gave an impassioned and compelling speech on ‘Childhood Tuberculosis: At the Tipping Point’. (PDF 107 KB)

Laying out the problem, Dr Starke said:

“One million annual cases of childhood tuberculosis. 210,000 annual deaths from childhood tuberculosis. A treatable and preventable disease that is not being treated, and certainly not being prevented. Only about one-third of the cases are even recorded and reported.

“These vulnerable young children have been greatly under-represented in tuberculosis research and public policy.”

After detailing six reasons that childhood TB has been neglected, Dr Starke described the tipping points that he hopes will lead to the elimination of TB in children, which involves a paradigm shift in approaches to include children in all aspects of TB elimination.

Dr Starke’s closing statement lead the crowd to spontaneous applause, he said, “Children have the same right as adults to benefits from TB care and research.”

Union Executive Director, José Luis Castro, welcomed people to the conference and spoke passionately on the theme of the conference Accelerating toward elimination, saying:

“This year’s Union World Conference convenes during one of the most critical moments in the global fight against tuberculosis. ..My hope for this conference is that it will galvanise our community in a way that no other conference has before, to move from incremental steps to taking giant leaps toward the global goal to end the TB epidemic.”

 Those attending heard an emotional testimony from Mileni Romero, a ondontologist from Venezuela and also a TB survivor, who shared her story of the personal cost of TB. Joined on stage by number of activists, Romero’s moving talk spoke of her struggles to access drugs and resources. She concluded, “I am making at call to unite patients and their health care providers. It is important not to forget patients. We need more solidarity. We all deserve to live.”

In a filmed message prepared specially for The Union World Conference, Honourable Dr Tabaré Vázquez, President of Uruguay spoke of his commitment to public health on reducing tobacco use and the burden of tuberculosis and noncommunicable diseases. He urged the audience to continue the fight, saying “Conferences like this lead us to finding solutions to these diseases”.

José Luis Castro welcomed Christoph Benn, Director of External Relations of the Global Fund, to the stage to announce a partnership agreement between the Global Fund and The Union that will explore innovative financing instruments to galvanise resources among the private sector to reach the global goal of ending the epidemic by 2030.

Pablo Lemus, the Mayor of Zapopan, - the municipality where the beautiful venue for the inaugural ceremony – Palacio de la Cultura y la Comunicación (PALCCO) is located – welcomed delegates to Mexico and Guadalajara. And remarks were made by Dr Antonio Cruces, the Minister of Health from the State of Jalisco, representing the Governor of the State of Jalisco, Jorge Aristóteles Sandoval Díaz.

Remarks were made by Dr Gerry Eijkemans, the Mexico Representative for the World Health Organization and Pan American Health Organization, before Union President Dr Jeremiah Chakaya Muhwa spoke of his hopes for the community all working to eliminate TB as he reflected on his first year as President saying, These are important times. We must seize upon the momentum being gathered and convert that momentum into the health of all those around the world who we strive for every day.”

The ceremony was closed by Dr Pablo Kuri Morales, Undersecretary of Diseases, Prevention and Health Policy in the Mexican Ministry of Health speaking on behalf of Minister of Health for Mexico, Dr Jose Narro Robles.