The 48th Union World Conference on Lung Health: defined by ground-breaking science for advancing lung health

The 48th Union World Conference on Lung Health held in Guadalajara, Mexico, was distinguished by some of the most innovative science for combatting tuberculosis and its co-infections seen in recent years -- supporting the conference theme: ‘Accelerating Toward Elimination’. Delegates from more than 100 countries attended the four-day scientific programme of plenaries, symposia and abstracts presented by global experts. 

“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,” said Union Executive Director,  José Luis Castro, setting the tone for the 2017 conference at the inaugural ceremony.

The conference community space ‘Encuentro’ contained a packed programme of debates, workshops and networking sessions, focused on the vital role of civil society in advancing lung health.  

The reality of TB disease was movingly described through the story of TB survivor Mileni Romero, an ondontologist from Venezuela, who also spoke during the opening ceremony. She emphasised the urgency of ending TB, as she told of the personal cost of the disease and her struggles to access drugs and resources.

Scientific highlights included preliminary results from Stage 1 of the STREAM randomised clinical trial that showed that the nine-month treatment regimen being tested for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis achieved favourable outcomes in almost 80 percent of those treated and is very close to the  effectiveness of the 20-24 month regimen recommended in WHO’s 2011 guidelines, when both regimens are given under trial conditions. 

A new ‘digitised medicine’ that could revolutionise TB treatment adherence methods was presented. Phase 1 tests of Wireless Observed Therapy (WOT), a digital, ingestible alternative to Directly Observed Therapy (DOT) – offers remote monitoring for drug adherence.

And the first-ever Zoonotic TB Roadmap to prevent animal to human transmission of TB, and the 12,000 deaths it causes each year, was also launched at the conference.

On World Obesity Day, results of a new study linking diabetes with latent TB infection were announced. It showed that diabetics had higher rates of TB infection than people who did not have diabetes, and that individuals with severe diabetes were more likely to have TB infection.

And amongst all the high tech innovations, a simple new test that could revolutionise TB detection in children was presented, using Oral Swab Tests rather than invasive gastric tests. It also has potential for TB screening and active case-finding.

The opening plenary looked ahead to the first United Nations (UN) High Level Meeting (HLM) on tuberculosis (TB). Dr Jeremiah Chakaya Muhwa, President of The Union, urged the audience to push for the HLM to lead to real and genuine action. He said: “We do have hope. But governments must do what they say at this meeting and not simply continue with business as usual.”

The tobacco industry’s corporate abuse on economically disenfranchised groups was discussed in the second plenary, with speakers calling on governments to focus on implementing the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, especially Article 5.3 which is designed to prevent industry interference in public health policy.

There is no one answer to ending TB – and the final Plenary Session showcased some of the many new approaches and methods that, combined with the other new strategies and solutions presented this week, will be used to collectively progress the fight against TB.

The General Assembly saw Dr Joseph Amolo Aluoch made an Honorary Member of The Union in recognition of his active participation in The Union's activities and the fulfilment of its goals. Conference delegates also celebrated the achievements of this year’s award winners, recognised for their outstanding contributions to TB research and leadership:  Dr Rohit Sarin, Dr Sarita Shah, Dr Leonardo Martinez, Dr Alberto Garcia-Basteiro, Dr Armand Van Deun.

On the closing day of the conference, Stacie Stender, Chair of the Coordinating Committee of Scientific Activities (CCSA), hosted the rapporteur session, providing a comprehensive overview of the breadth and depth of the science presented this week. The CCSA, who work voluntarily throughout the year, coordinate the development of the scientific programme of The Union World Conference.

Encuentro’s bike ride for lung health saw delegates embark on a tour of the city to promote healthy and sustainable transport. A pre-conference press event had launched a new initiative to increase walking and cycling in Guadalajara, as part of Bloomberg Philanthropies Partnership for Healthy Cities programme.

Media attended the conference from all over the world, attending sessions, press conferences and media trips – including  a local cheese factory and abattoir to see first-hand how TB transmission through food is prevented. Press coverage of this, and the new science presented at the conference were published by hundreds of publications with top-tier global media outlets, including the New York Times, The Lancet and The Sun.

The 6th President’s Centennial Dinner, to celebrate The Union’s 97-year history and secure its work for the future, took place at Hospicio Cabañas. Union supporters included members of parliament, doctors and researchers, who admired the beauty and grandeur of the UNESCO World Heritage site with its famous murals.

The closing ceremony was also the official launch of the road to The Hague, in The Netherlands – which will host the 49th Union World Conference on Lung Health, 24 to 27 October 2018.