Time’s up for TB in Nunavut and Globally

Time’s up for TB in Nunavut and Globally.

Tuberculosis (TB) is the world’s leading infectious disease killer. And it is finally getting the attention it deserves in Canada and globally. In New York this week, Member States of the United Nations are finalising a draft political declaration on TB (Draft Declaration) to be adopted by heads of state this September. The strength of the commitments outlined in this Draft Declaration may make or break our collective ability to turn the tide on TB.

Canada should be joining with other countries to ensure this Draft Declaration accelerates a strong and meaningful response to the global TB crisis. If we keep on going as we are, it will be another 150 years before we achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets.

To have any hope of changing course, Member States need to act now to close the annual TB funding gap of US$1.3 billion. According to an analysis by Treatment Action Group (TAG), if each country invests 0.1% per cent of its current total research and development (R&D) spending on TB, the funding gap can be bridged. Canada’s “fair share” of bridging this gap would be an annual global contribution of US$25.3 million.

That should not be too much to ask. Especially given that domestically Canada has already recognised the importance of financial support to end TB. Just this year, the Government of Canada allocated $27 million to an Inuit-Federal Task Force to eliminate TB amongst the Canadian Inuit, who are 300 times more likely to fall sick from TB compared to non-Indigenous, Canadian-born citizens. This is a long-overdue commitment by the Government of Canada.

©See Change Initiative in health Centre in Qikiqtarjuaq

Yet despite this positive national approach, Canada has taken a surprisingly cynical approach in the international negotiations. Along with the United States, European Union, Australia, New Zealand and Russia, Canada is actually pushing to remove a concrete global financial commitment for TB from the Draft Declaration.

Increasing investment for TB is critical because the tools needed to end TB — a short-course oral cure, better diagnostics and novel vaccines — don’t exist yet. Until they do, scaling up and ensuring access to the best tools we do have is essential. In 2016, 2 out of 5 people with TB were not diagnosed and only 1 in 20 patients with drug-resistant TB were able to access the newer, safer drugs that they needed.

©See Change Initiative in Qikiqtarjuaq

The fact that, in 2018, Canada’s North has an ongoing TB epidemic illustrates that TB is a problem that concerns us all. My organisation recently visited the breathtakingly beautiful Canadian High Arctic. We were there to meet members of an Inuit community which was recently the site of a successful community-wide screening and testing due to a serious outbreak of TB. We could not help but be appalled to realise that in our own country, one of the wealthiest in the world, the Inuit are still suffering from this deadly, but preventable and treatable infectious disease.

© See Change Initiative in Clyde River

TB does not respect borders. It targets the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized populations. Wealthy countries, like Canada, have an ethical responsibility to end this inequity domestically and also internationally. Given Canada’s unique position as a country with its own TB crisis, I hope to see Prime Minister Trudeau publicly committing to fund its fair share of the global TB response and to be present at the UN meeting in September this year. Together we can and must mobilize the global political will and necessary funding to end TB.

Rachel Kiddell-Monroe is the Executive Director of See Change Initiative, a new Canadian non-profit organization that aims to empower communities to address their health needs.

Rachel is a lawyer and an activist focusing on humanitarian assistance, access to medicines, global health, governance and global health ethics. For Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) she headed emergency humanitarian missions in Djibouti, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. Rachel was programme director for MSF Canada and MSF’s Regional Humanitarian Affairs Advisor for Latin America in Central America. She went onto lead the MSF Access Campaign in Canada and is a member of MSF International Board of Directors. Rachel is also former President of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) and a Professor of Practice at McGill University.