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First-ever High-level UN General Assembly Meeting on TB to be Held in 2018

Following a recent unanimous decision by United Nations General Assembly member states, the intergovernmental organization has announced it will be holding a high-level meeting in 2018 on the fight against tuberculosis (TB), the first-ever meeting of its kind.

The scope of the global tuberculosis (TB) epidemic continues to challenge the public health community because of increasing antibiotic resistance and outdated diagnostic tools. In response, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has announced that it will be holding a high-level meeting on TB in 2018.

In 2015, TB infections killed more people worldwide than HIV and malaria, taking 1.8 million lives and causing an estimated 10.4 million new infections. Of those newly infected, 5.9 million were men, 3.5 million were women and 1 million were children, primarily living in India, Indonesia, China, Nigeria, Pakistan, and South Africa, which together accounted for 60% of all new TB cases. In addition, 480,000 of the new cases that occurred in 2015 were from the more virulent multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria, with an additional 100,000 cases showing resistance to the first-line antibiotic rifampicin, commonly used to treat TB. In addition, co-infection of HIV and TB led to 400,000 deaths in 2015, accounting for about 35% of all HIV-related deaths.

While the figures are dire for this disease—one of the top 10 killers worldwide–TB-related deaths fell 22% from 2000 to 2015, and treatments saved some 49 million lives during those years. The World Health Organization (WHO) has laid out an ambitious End TB Strategy to sharply reduce new TB infections and TB-related deaths even more by the year 2035. The plan includes expanding TB prevention and care, pursuing new innovations, and engaging in partnerships with governments, local communities, and the private sector. In support of these efforts, and following a campaign by the Stop TB Partnership, the UNGA recently announced the passage of Resolution A/71/L.41, setting up the first high-level meeting of its kind on the fight against TB.

“As the Chair of the Board of the Stop TB Partnership, and Minister of Health of South Africa, I welcome the decision by the United Nations to hold a High-Level Meeting in 2018 on the fight against tuberculosis,” said Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Health of South Africa and chair of the Stop TB Partnership board, in a recent press release. “The high-level meeting on tuberculosis will heighten awareness of the social and economic devastation caused by this age-old disease and the need for urgent global attention to end TB as a public health threat by 2030.”

The meeting will take place in 2018, with WHO officials teaming up with the UN Secretary General and Member States to plan and develop the itinerary for the meeting. The meeting will follow the WHO Global Ministerial Conference on the fight against TB, which is set to take place in Moscow in November 2017 and will focus on the public health issue as part the larger sustainable development goals. The UNGA resolution to set up the meeting passed in a unanimous agreement by member states, and leaders from around the world, both from countries afflicted by the TB epidemic and those who fund global TB efforts, commended the decision.

"This is a historical moment for the TB community. The UN High-Level Meeting is a significant step on the path to end TB," said Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership. "Heads of State, governments, civil society, and the private sector must offer their highest level of political commitment, focus on concrete outputs, make their voices heard, and offer innovative solutions to the TB epidemic. If the TB community unites our efforts, the HLM will go down in history as the moment the world came together to end TB."