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CEO Perspective

47th World Conference on Lung Health

Tuberculosis has claimed the lives of more people than perhaps any other infectious disease in human history. In 2015, according to WHO’s report issued October 13, TB killed 1.8 million people, with 10.4 million new cases, 580,000 of which are estimated to be resistant to existing antibiotics. And though TB deaths decreased by 22 percent between 2000 and 2015, TB remains among the top 10 causes of death worldwide. Clearly, the TB epidemic is still upon us.

Ninety-six years ago, The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease was founded and Vital Strategies is proud to be affiliated with this extraordinary, groundbreaking organization. As head of the Union, I’m proud of the organization’s rich and productive history. We were the very first NGO to be recognized by WHO when it formed in 1948.

Over the next two decades, Union member researchers demonstrated that TB was curable with antibiotics and treatable at home—transforming the survival rate and quality of life for TB patients worldwide. The Union was the first organization to analyze the shift in TB infection rates to low- and middle-income countries in terms of the legislative, policy and medical changes needed to improve outcomes. Beginning in the 1990s we have been leaders in tackling the burden of co-infection with HIV, as well as the growing global problem of other lung ailments, including rising rates of asthma.

Our model of directly observed treatment, short course (DOTS) was adopted by WHO in the 1990s and today—as the standard of therapy for non-resistant TB, and as part of WHO’s Stop TB program—has save 43 million lives since 2000.

Next week in Liverpool, UK, the Union will host its 47th World Conference on Lung Health—the largest annual gathering of TB professionals. Our 2016 conference theme is “Confronting Resistance.” By this we mean the mounting problem of antimicrobial resistance to TB itself, and the urgent need for solutions, but we also mean other forms of resistance: resistance to improving lung health among those who have vested interests elsewhere; resistance to innovative solutions in TB treatment and lung health; essentially, anything that stands in the way of ending the TB epidemic.

Vital Strategies plays an ongoing role and significant contribution to TB research. As the Union’s partner in Standardized Treatment Regimen of Anti-Tuberculosis Drugs for Patients with MDR-TB (STREAM), Vital Strategies shares the credit for contributing to WHO’s new guidelines on MDR-TB treatment announced in May, reducing the standard treatment from 24 to 9 months. As you know, the length and format of MDR-TB treatment poses a significant burden both for patients and for health systems tasked with administering treatment. STREAM evaluates two new treatment regimens for MDR-TB, including an all-oral 9-month regimen and a 6-month regimen, which will both include bedaquiline, a new novel anti-TB medicine developed by Janssen.

I’m also pleased about an ongoing partnership between the Union and Vital Strategies called DETECT Child TB. With its initial operation in Uganda, DETECT Child TB seeks to improve the prevention, detection and treatment rate among children 15 years old and younger in areas where community health services need strengthening.

Of course, Vital Strategies work encompasses much more than TB prevention, control and treatment.

We work in more than 50 countries to implement WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. As part of this effort we will be at the 7th Conference of Parties (COP7) in New Delhi, in November pressing for mechanisms to ensure that governments continue to run strategic communications campaigns as part of a sustainable commitment to tobacco control policies and programs.

Our data for health program recently helped set up an electronic death registration system in Peru, enabling efficient re-coding of deaths and compilation of data. This, in addition to helping to launch a ‘verbal autopsy’ system in Rwanda, in which community health workers interview family members to determine cause of death, that will provide data for public health and policy agendas.

Our road safety program recently helped the cities of Addis Ababa, Accra and Mumbai establish Mayor-lead road safety coordinating committees that will help educate citizens about road risks, and help reduce the fatalities and injuries resulting from road crashes.

Obesity prevention has taken on new strength with WHO’s recent endorsement of a 20 percent taxation of sugary drinks. This bolsters our ongoing work in Mexico and other countries.

In Tanzania, our maternal health program has matured to the point of becoming independent. This autumn, we will launch Thamini Uhai (Value Life), once the name of a maternal health campaign and now the name of the Tanzania –based project.  Over ten years of supporting the effort, we have helped renovate rural health centers, trained non-physicians to perform obstetric surgeries, and worked closely with government to advocate for their commitment to maternal and childcare.

Our newly launched environmental heath division is developing assessment tools for identifying gaps in ambient air quality management systems in populous, polluted cities that can be fulfilled by health and environmental ministries to promote clean air policies.

With all these subjects in mind, Vital Strategies also continues to shape and contribute to strong advocacy on NCDS — making sure the issues that concern us most get their due on the global stage.

Several Vital Strategies staff will be in Liverpool to make presentations about our programs and to promote the extraordinary work we do.

I look forward to seeing you there, and using our shared strength and expertise to meet the world’s most important health problems. Together, we can beat resistance in all its forms, and reduce and prevent TB and lung disease worldwide.