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03/23/2018 15:45 EDT | Updated 03/23/2018 15:45 EDT

It's Time For The World's Leaders To Support The Fight Against Tuberculosis

Decades of neglect have allowed TB to become the world's leading infectious killer.

Liuhsihsiang via Getty Images

By Ms. Brenda Shanahan, MP, Mr. Dean Allison and Ms. Mobina Jaffer, Senator, on behalf of the Global Health Caucus on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, with support from RESULTS Canada.

Irene is a young woman from Vancouver. Over the course of five days, exhaustion and headaches began to take over her previously normal work and daily life. Her doctor told her it was most likely a cold, and advised that she come back a week later if her symptoms persisted. When hallucinations and chills took over, Irene was rushed to the hospital. Her doctor was sadly wrong: it was more than a bad cold. It was tuberculosis (TB).

Senator Mobina Jaffer met Irene in 2015, and this meeting has stuck with her. Grateful that Irene was finally able to get the treatment she needed to beat TB, Jaffer knows very well that this isn't always the case. For over a decade there has been no real decline in TB rates in Canada — about 1,600 people suffer from the disease each year. It is particularly problematic among newcomers and Indigenous populations. Inuit populations, for example, are 270 times more likely to develop TB than the general population.

TB is a forgotten disease, forgotten because it primarily affects people living in poor conditions.

Irene and other Canadians suffering from TB are not alone. In 2016, 10.4 million people around the world became ill from TB. But what makes matters unconscionable is that, though not easy to diagnose or treat, TB is curable. Irene is testament to that. And yet 1.7 million people are dying of TB each year. As Canadian MP Brenda Shanahan puts it, "TB is a forgotten disease, forgotten because it primarily affects people living in poor conditions."

Decades of neglect have allowed TB to become the world's leading infectious killer. Global political leaders haven't sufficiently supported the fight against TB. But there's a feeling that's all beginning to change: on Sept. 26, 2018 the United Nations (UN) will host a High-Level Meeting (HLM) on TB. Such meetings are rarely dedicated to health issues, and this is a first for TB. After a strong push from the global community fighting TB, and in recognition of the severity of the disease (that now stands to cost the global economy almost a trillion U.S. dollars by 2030), 193 UN member states will discuss how to turn the tides at the highest political level.

Global Health Caucus on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria

March 24is World TB Day, which marks the kick-off to a global campaign — Wanted: Leaders for a TB-Free World. Canada's all-party parliamentary Global Health Caucus on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria are great examples of leaders who are working hard to make a TB-free world a reality. The caucus is made up of parliamentarians who are champions for the eradication of TB in Canada and across the globe. As MP Dean Allison, caucus co-chair puts it, "We have a great opportunity to eliminate TB. We also have a responsibility to do so. There is no reason for a curable disease to still affect so many families, especially Indigenous people here in Canada."

Co-chaired by MPs Brenda Shanahan, Dean Allison and Don Davies, and Senator Mobina Jaffer, the caucus has been working to help build the necessary political momentum in Canada and around the world to end TB for good. The caucus is also a member of the Global TB Caucus, a group of elected leaders from around the world who are champions in the campaign against TB. For example, in 2016, MP Brenda Shanahan travelled to Germany where the Global TB Caucus successfully called on G20 heads of states to commit to finding better drugs to treat TB. This is the kind of leadership we need to end TB.

Senator Jaffer is optimistic, "When I retire from the Senate, TB will be a disease of the past." Given the neglect TB has faced in previous decades, such a statement may have once seemed unrealistic. But with renewed attention and investment, as well as a drive at the highest levels, we may be in a position to prove the senator right.

Authors:

Ms. Brenda Shanahan, MP, Mr. Dean Allison, and Ms. Mobina Jaffer, Senator, on behalf of the Global Health Caucus on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, with support from RESULTS Canada. The Global Health Caucus on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is an all-party parliamentary caucus that provides a forum within Canada's Parliament for an exchange of ideas on how best to address the needs of people living with or affected by these three epidemics.

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