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TB challenge

September 20, 2018

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ALTHOUGH over 1.5m people worldwide die of tuberculosis each year, the disease has not received the global attention it deserves. It remains the top infectious disease killer for the fourth year in a row. But a turning point may be near. Knowing that slow progress to fight TB would result in countries missing the 2030 SDG goal to eliminate the disease, UN member states have put the spotlight on a global eradication plan by rallying political support and investment. At least 42 world leaders will meet on Sept 26 to commit their nations to eradicating TB by 2030 at the first-ever tuberculosis summit on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting. Given that Pakistan ranks sixth among those countries that suffer from multidrug resistant TB (15,000 MDR cases are diagnosed each year), President Arif Alvi would do well to attend the summit. The move would demonstrate Pakistan’s determination to eradicate TB, while the summit itself would serve as an opportunity for the country to seek assistance to curb and reverse TB’s often fatal trajectory at a time when experts fear an even deadlier form of the disease. Pakistan should take full advantage of the opportunity to interact with the delegates at the summit where the disease will, for the first time, be receiving such high-level political attention, the aim being to ensure that poorer countries have access to effective and affordable medication to treat MDR TB. The outcome of this moot may be critical for the government.

While the international Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria provides free diagnosis and treatment, provinces in Pakistan have protested about poor resource allocation. For equitable distribution, transparency is essential. Meanwhile, the blunt truth is that too many poor people are infected with or dying of a curable and preventable disease. Providing health security as repeatedly pledged by this government calls for sustained investment and change in treatment approaches through greater efforts at universal health coverage.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2018