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We Need To Stand On The Shoulders Of The HIV/AIDS Community

The tuberculosis advocacy community needs to build on their expertise, experience and the lessons they learned.

12/28/2017 08:58 EST | Updated 12/28/2017 09:05 EST

By Shelley Garnham

I have a particular affinity for Isaac Newton's famous quote, "If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." I've always been short — except for a brief time in grade four when I hit average height, and then apparently stopped growing altogether. So I've spent most of my life getting quite good at strategizing how best to amplify my view. I have, on occasion, been known to climb atop furniture/counters/shoulders when needed. I know how valuable a boost up can be.

Whether literal or metaphorical, gaining a little elevation from those around you can be incredibly advantageous, and in many cases essential. Newton knew this — knowledge builds on itself, improving until it becomes the revolutionary.

As a global health advocate I am constantly building on the path others have laid. We are all working towards revolutionary change. When I first joined the tuberculosis advocacy community I was overwhelmed by the task at hand — tuberculosis is a crushing epidemic — but I am ever inspired by the dedication and passion that this community holds. Many here come from the HIV/AIDS advocacy community and we are often comparing our work to theirs.

I get it. The HIV/AIDS community is a giant. I don't know if there is a group of advocates that has made the kind of revolutionary change that they have, and in so short a time. And as an advocate seeking to prevent the scourge of another epidemic, tuberculosis, I'm looking for a little elevation. We, the tuberculosis (TB) community, need a giant.

We mutually benefit from our efforts to bring down these epidemics. TB and HIV have a unique relationship. They both heavily impact populations living in poor conditions with insufficient health systems, and they share a distinctively destructive relationship for patients. HIV weakens a person's immune system, making them more susceptible to infections, of which TB is the most common and deadly. TB is the leading cause of death for people with HIV, responsible for one in three AIDS-related deaths.

TB remains one of the top 10 causes of death around the world, and has again claimed the top spot for global infectious killers. People are dying — 1.7 million each year, more than HIV and malaria combined. TB is as easy to catch as it is to breathe. The bacterium lives mostly in the lungs and is carried through the air, causing illness in over 10 million people a year.

But this is also the year that we can really push political momentum to turn the tides against TB. The United Nations General Assembly has called for a global High Level Meeting on TB for 2018. This is a big deal. This is an unparalleled opportunity for the TB community to come together and get real commitments from our world leaders to defeat tuberculosis.

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But we can't do it alone. We need some shoulders to stand on, and I know just the ones. They're broad, experienced and strong. We need the HIV/AIDS community. They've been here before. They have two UN High Level Meetings under their belts, one in 2006 and one in 2016, and they have some valuable perspectives to help us see a clearer path to real change.

We need to build on their expertise, their experience and the lessons they learned because we need this High Level Meeting on TB to be more than a photo op. But real change takes tough discussions and ambitious commitments and we need to push our global leaders. We will not see our goals for ending TB if we do not generate collective political will accompanied by tangible commitments and resources from across the globe. And until we get that, I worry that TB will continue to plague people living with HIV and the world.

So let us stand on the shoulders of giants, and together see our way to the end of these diseases.

Shelley Garnham is the tuberculosis advocacy officer at RESULTS Canada. She leads the campaign to end tuberculosis, engaging and leveraging a network of grassroots citizen advocates, Canadian government officials, and global health partners to push for policy change and resource mobilization in support of the global movement to end TB.

This blog is part of the blog series: Barometer Rising: No time to backtrack the fast track to ending HIV as a global health threat by 2030 by the Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development (ICAD) in recognition of World AIDS Day (1 December). The series features a selection of blogs written by our member and partner organizations. Contributors share their broad range of perspectives and insight on the right to health within Canada and globally to critically reflect on the response to HIV knowing we are now just 2 years from the 2020 Fast-Track targets (90-90-90) and just over a decade away from the 2030 Global Goals for Sustainable Development (SDGs).

Are we on the right track or are we on the back-track?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog series are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of ICAD.

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