25 March 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE BY TUBERCULOSIS SPECIAL ENVOY

 


Global leaders will meet to fashion a common strategy to scale up efforts to systematically address HIV and tuberculosis co-infection at United Nations Headquarters on 9 June, Jorge Sampaio, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Stop Tuberculosis, said today.


Mr. Sampaio told correspondents at a Headquarters press briefing that the meeting was expected to be a galvanizing moment towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target for tuberculosis –- halting and reversing its incidences -- with a measurable impact on individual health and well-being, as well as global health security.


He said the meeting was being organized in conjunction with the World Health Organization, the Stop Tuberculosis Partnership, the Global Fund, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the World Bank and, possibly, the European Union, and would bring together heads of State, senior political and United Nations officials, as well as leaders of civil society, the media and the private sector.  He hoped the meeting would finish with a consensus call to action, providing a strategic way to look at the combined effort necessary for the simultaneous treatment of tuberculosis and HIV.


He noted that tuberculosis had recently come back into public concern and was no longer a forgotten disease.  Today, it killed an appalling 4,500 people a day.  In that regard, the theme for this year’s tuberculosis campaign was, “I am stopping tuberculosis”, in an effort to show that it was not just a theme for yesterday, but a pledge of permanent battle that will last throughout the year and into the future.


The Global Tuberculosis Control Report 2008 showed that, in 2006, there were 9.2 million new cases, including 700,000 cases among people living with HIV/AIDS and 400,000 cases of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, he went on.  That Report also showed that approximately 1.5 million people died of tuberculosis in 2006.  In addition, 200,000 people with HIV/AIDS died from HIV associated with tuberculosis.


He stated that there had emerged an unfortunate consolidation of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, which a new WHO [World Health Organization] report had shown had reached the highest level ever recorded.  Given the limited treatment and laboratory capacity, it had been projected that only an estimated 10 per cent of the people with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis could be treated in 2008.


Another threat was the lethal combination of HIV and tuberculosis, continued Mr. Sampaio.  That combination was fuelling the tuberculosis epidemic in many parts of the world, especially in Africa.  Of the nine million new cases of tuberculosis reported in 2006, almost 750,000 occurred in people living with HIV.  At least one third of the 33.2 million people living with HIV were also infected with tuberculosis and the disease was now the leading cause of death of people living with HIV.


He said that the challenge was for the international community to do more and to do better.  The full implementation of the Global Plan to Stop Tuberculosis was needed in order to achieve the MDG goal on tuberculosis elimination by 2015.  However, concerted permanent action was needed from individuals, communities, and donors to support the full implementation of the Global Plan.  That meant that new investments were necessary, so that basic treatment of first degree tuberculosis could be expanded and consolidated.  Also, treatment efforts and laboratory capacity needed to be scaled up to slow down the spread of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, as well as to provide those who had both tuberculosis and HIV with treatment.


The HIV pandemic presented a massive challenge to the global control of tuberculosis at all levels, but particularly in view of the recent development of emergence of drug resistant tuberculosis, Mr. Sampaio said.  The only way to respond to the inter-linked epidemics of tuberculosis and HIV was to push for a more coordinated approach.  Horizontal approaches were needed that combined HIV and tuberculosis and the international community needed to intensify and develop the global approach in order to save lives, boost capacity to respond and to drive down HIV-associated tuberculosis levels.


Responding to a question, Mr. Sampaio said that a lot of research was going on to see if there could be quicker diagnosis, new drugs and new vaccines, along with the capacity to deliver them as quickly as possible.  Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis was man-made, in the sense that it arose when treatment was interrupted.  In general, tuberculosis drugs had to be taken for a six-month period.  To avoid interruptions, new drugs were needed for a quicker kind of response, along with a quicker capacity to diagnose.  Also, access remained a main issue, in that, in high burden countries, access to health services and diagnosis capacity must be ensured.


He added that he supported the use of prizes to encourage more research in the area of tuberculosis.  That was because investment in the area was low, and there was a perception that tuberculosis was a disease affecting only poor and excluded people.  On the contrary, rich people also had tuberculosis and the disease travelled.


In response to another question, he said that multi-drug resistant tuberculosis had caused a new awareness, but had existed for some time.  It was appearing in some countries of the former Soviet Union, but there was also a high rate in some other countries, including in sub-Saharan Africa.  When treatment was followed, the rate of cure for tuberculosis was about 85 per cent.  However, when treatment was interrupted, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis could develop, requiring a second type of treatment, using more toxic drugs taken over a longer period of about two years.


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For information media • not an official record