In September the United Nations’ (UN) General Assembly, the highest decision-making body in the organisation, will hold its first ever High-Level Meeting on TB in New York, to make commitments on the steps needed to end TB.

“Up until now there hasn’t been enough high-level commitment from heads of state in terms of attending these High-Level Meetings (HLMs). We would like President Ramaphosa to publically commit to go to this meeting and to encourage other heads of state to do the same,” said Doctor’s Without Borders’ (MSF) Julia Hill.

Despite being preventable and curable, TB is the leading cause of death in South Africa and the top infectious disease killer globally.

On Wednesday evening, at the 5th SA TB Conference currently taking place in Durban, civil society organisations met to discuss what South Africa should prioritise at the HLM, and agreed to publicly call on the President to show his commitment and attend the meeting, described as “the most significant political meeting ever held on TB” by the Global Funds Advocates Network.

At Wednesday’s meeting that included organisations like MSF, TB-Proof and the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa, civil society agreed to deliver a statement at the TB Conference’s closing ceremony on Friday including the call for Ramaphosa’s attendance at the HLM.

Political will and investment

“His attendance would show political commitment and signifies that TB should be taken very seriously,” said Hill.

She said that TB has been “seriously underfunded” and we need “financial commitment from the highest level for this to be taken seriously”.

According to Hill, “one of the other key components of this call to action” is the need for health minister Aaron Motsoaledi to convene a national meeting with stakeholders, particularly civil society and those affected by TB before the HLM “so that the leadership of the country can hear and discuss specific things we can be doing on the ground, where we work, to find, diagnose, treat and support people with TB”.

While Ramaphosa has already signalled his commitment to attend through his deputy, during Deputy President David Mabuza’s speech at the opening of the conference, civil society groups are anxious for this pledge to be upheld.

TB-survivor from TB-Proof Ingrid Schoeman told Health-e News about her near-death experience with drug-resistant TB. Now cured, she said many people with TB endure worse experiences daily, including losing their lives.

She said: “The time is now for our Minister of Health and President to engage with civil society and commit to attending the HLM on September 26. Let us stop this suffering.” – Health-e News.