Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Simply, Stopping Tuberculosis

3rd World Stop TB Partnership Forum 24th March – World TB Day

By Rev. Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo Head of the Caritas Internationalis Delegation in Geneva and Chairperson, Catholic HIV and AIDS Network (CHAN)

When compared to the biennial International AIDS Conferences, the environment of this Forum lacked the “glitz”. The crowds were smaller, and the activists were less assertive. But the sense of urgency was just as immediate and the passion was just as evident among the 1,500 participants from more than 100 countries who assembled on 23 March for the opening of the Third Stop TB Partners Forum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The theme of the Forum is both straightforward and compelling: “Simply, Stopping Tuberculosis (TB)”. Not many years ago, the global human family seemed to be well on its way to accomplishing that goal by the year 2050 – as had been promised by the public health, clinical, and scientific experts.

In the opening ceremony of the Forum, we learned that the dream may not be realized – due to a number of developments, including the large number of HIV/TB co-infections as well as the development of new and much harder-to-treat “multidrug-resistant (MDR)” and “extensively drug resistant (XDR)” strains of the bacillus that causes TB. It was reported that some 9.7 million people were diagnosed with TB during 2007 and 1.77 million people died of the disease.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aim toward a 50 percent reduction in TB prevalence and deaths by the year 2015. Experts are encouraged by good progress with treatment success: 84-85 percent. However, case detection rates are still quite poor – 37 percent of such infections are not being identified and, without a full course of treatment, those who have developed active TB disease can infect others through air-borne means.

Paediatric TB treatment faces many challenges since little progress has been made with developing “child-friendly” testing and medications for this disease (see more information on this subject in Caritas’ “ HAART for Children ” Campaign - ) .

What do Caritas and other Catholic humanitarian organizations have to do with fighting TB? The “mantra” at the Opening Sessions of the Forum was that we need to find new and creative ways to combat this major global killer disease that is both preventable and treatable.

One important way to do that is to expand the response beyond the traditional medical approaches, most especially by bringing efforts to the grassroots level; by forging new partnerships with government, international donors, and other members of civil society; and by integrating HIV and TB diagnosis, care and treatment. Caritas and other Catholic organizations already are doing this.

For that reason, I was honoured to present, at this Global TB Forum, some of the effective models developed by faith-based organizations and especially was pleased to do so on the Observance of World TB Day, 24 March 2009.

Read Msgr Vitillo’s speech from the forum.

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