Nick's Speech to the UN Civil Society Hearing on TB

This week Nick Herbert addressed a United Nations meeting in New York on tackling tuberculosis (TB), the world’s deadliest infectious disease. On Thursday he will lead a Commons debate on TB, calling on the Government to support a new global declaration to end TB.


On Monday 4 June, Nick spoke in New York at the UN Interactive Civil Society Hearing on the Fight Against Tuberculosis.  This was part of the preparatory process towards the General Assembly High-Level Meeting on tuberculosis which is taking place in September 2018. 

To watch Nick's speech, click here and to read the full transcript, see below:


Thank you very much.  Good afternoon.  It’s a great honour to be able to join this important event at the United Nations.

We’re all looking forward to the 26 September and the High-Level Meeting at the UN.  It’s an incredibly important opportunity.  But there’s a simple truth which is that political declarations don’t treat patients.  Words are not enough.

TB was after all declared a global health emergency 25 years ago, since then 50 million people have lost their lives.  It is a fine thing that the UN Sustainable Development Goals, agreed by all the world’s leaders just a very few years ago, specifically says in Goal 3.3 that these epidemics will be beaten in 15 years’ time, but as we’ve heard at the current rate of progress TB will not be beaten for 160 years’ time and as a consequence another 28 million lives are expected to be lost at the current trajectory by the end of that Sustainable Development Goal period.  Words are not enough.

What we have to do is translate the commitments which have already been made by the world’s leaders, and which we hope will be made on 26 September, into specific actions that are taken at various levels, but in particular specific actions that are taken by individual governments.  Without those specific actions we can continue to expect that we will remain off course in tackling tuberculosis.  The importance of specific actions, and that means specific targets, being agreed in the declaration at the HLM is that only then, only if there are specifics, can the world’s leaders be held to account for delivering against those requirements. 

That is why they are so important, and if there are generalised commitments it is too easy for governments to wriggle away from them, and too easy for them not to be clear about what it is that they actually have to do, or for those who hold those governments to account in each country: elected representatives such as myself, civil society members, all of the NGOs who will be clamouring for more action.  It will be much harder for them, if their heads of government are able to say ‘Oh well we’ve done this’, but there isn’t a specific that enables though those who are holding that head of government to account to say ‘Yes but you haven’t done enough – look how you’ve missed this target’.  That’s why it is so important that we press for these specific measures to be included in the High Level Declaration.  We shouldn’t be frightened of targets, because they give something that the world’s leaders, that elected politicians, can aim for.

We know that there is a funding gap – we’ve heard about that and we know that funding needs to be doubled.  I think it’s important to realise that the reason we need specific targets is this:  how can we expect to hold heads of government and those who work with them to account for commitments to fund tuberculosis if we don’t actually know how much we’re expecting them to fund?  There is a huge non-sequitur there – they need to know what it is that they have to do and we need to be able to identify how much more those governments need to spend.  Not what the global gap is but what the individual gap is; and that’s particularly true of Research & Development where there is massive market failure; and absent government intervention and absent government funding, we will not have the increase in R&D that we all keep clamouring for. 

So there needs to be an increase of funding, met both multilaterally - and we’ve heard of the need to replenish the Global Fund – met individually in-country, but also met through the continuation and indeed the increase of bilateral programmes, don’t let’s overlook the importance of those.

Yes the cost is not insignificant, another 6 or 7 billion dollars is not insignificant – but it is compared to the overall costs of not tackling this disease.  I mentioned that we are so dramatically off-target in missing the Sustainable Development Goal, the cost to the global economy of missing that goal over that 15 year period will be 1 trillion dollars – a 1000 billion dollars cumulatively, the cost of missing that goal.  That dwarfs any cost of increasing investment in TB programmes and R&D.

Let me make one final point.  It is no use us just petitioning health ministers or even just finance ministers:  it is heads of government who have the authority and can exercise the leadership
to drive the necessary action and to authorise the increase in investment that is need for tuberculosis.  That is why it is so important for all of us to work so hard to get our heads of government to attend the High Level Meeting on 26 September, as the UN General Assembly resolution specifically invites them to do. 

Words are not enough.  We need the heads of government to be there, we need them to make specific commitments to act and with the funding to match, so that we can hold them to account for achieving the end to TB.  That is what they owe their electorates and that is what they owe the world’s poorest and those who are dying.  That is what they owe the 1.7 million people a year who continue to lose their lives from this terrible disease.  Thank you.  


If you look at all of the world’s problems, this is not the hardest to deal with - TB has been beatable since the discovery of antibiotics.  It is frankly to the shame of the world’s community that so many people have lost their lives and will continue to lose their lives simply because we do not mobilise the resources and the action that’s necessary to tackle it. 

So my message to the world’s leaders would be to attend and to agree the necessary action.  If 1.7 million lives lost each year totally unnecessarily is not enough to persuade you to come, what is?