Opening plenary session explores the Road to the United Nations High Level Meeting

The first plenary session of The Union World Conference looked ahead to the first ever United Nations (UN) High Level Meeting (HLM) on tuberculosis (TB), taking place in 2018 and how to ensure the current political momentum it represents is best realised.

Session chair Dr Eric Goosby, UN Special Envoy on TB, said of the coming HLM, “This meeting is an opportunity to translate the issues TB has on a global level to those in a political position to make a difference.”

Chief Wilton Littlechild, member of the Maskwacis First Nation of Northern Alberta, Canada, reminded all those present of why the HLM must bring us closer to a world free of TB. He spoke about growing up as a student at indigenous residential schools, where the number one killer of children was TB.

Emphasising the fundamental importance of justice for indigenous peoples, Chief Littlechild, told the audience that among the Inuit the TB rate is 270 times higher than the rate in non-indigenous peoples.

Looking ahead, he said, “As we go into the HLM, we must call on UN member states to implement not just a general right to health, but with a focus on the specific rights of indigenous peoples to health that we have so often been denied.”

Prof Michel Kazatchkine from the United Nations spoke about the opportunity that the HLM provides for TB to be prioritised with the broader context of global health and the UN agenda at large.

“Global health is interlinked with national and local strategies; they must work together to be effective” said Prof Kazatchkine, “TB is facing a time of opportunity and risk. We have made remarkable progress, but progress remains unequal around the world”

He made the case for increasing the political nature of global health during the coming HLM, and finished by saying, “health is a political choice at all levels of governance”.

Closing the session Dr Jeremiah Chakaya Muhwa, President of The Union, gave a heartfelt plea, urging the audience to push for the HLM to lead to real and genuine action. He said, “I’m scared because we have had declarations before that have not led to anything. There will be a raft of things we will say we will do. But how do we make sure patients actually benefit? When commitments are made, we must see them implemented for it to really mean something more tangible.”

Dr Chakaya hoped that the HLM would mean more money for research, for new tools and to make those tools applicable. But he finished with a caution, “We do have hope. But governments must do what they say at this meeting and not simply continue with business as usual.”

The Karel Styblo Public Health Prize was awarded during the plenary to Dr Rohit Sarin for his contribution to DOTS and MDR-TB treatment.