Nick speaks at the United Nations High-Level Meeting on TB

Nick Herbert

Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.

We should not have to be here.

TB has been curable since the discovery of antibiotics nearly a century ago.

The world believed that tuberculosis was a disease of the past, and we were asleep when it returned as an epidemic of the present.

It is time to wake up.

The world’s deadliest infectious disease, killing more than 4,000 people a day, can no longer be ignored.

Today’s meeting should mark a turning point in the fight.

I welcome the declaration. It says all the right things.

But here is the key question: will the promises be translated into action?

The new target to treat 40 million more patients over the next five years is justifiably ambitious.

If it is met, we will at last break the back of this epidemic.

But if is not, the Sustainable Development Goal target to beat the disease in twelve year’s time will be missed, too – and missed badly.

As the declaration acknowledges, to treat every person with TB by 2022 will require a significant increase in resources.

It follows that every nation must accept its fair share of additional spending, both on TB programmes and on research and development.

But who will ensure that they deliver?

This is a fine declaration, but it does not include a strong or independent accountability mechanism.

So we will all need to hold our leaders’ feet to the fire for the promises they make today.

I believe we will need a high-level steering group to ensure progress …

… and a new plan to translate the ambition on research and development into a programme which will actually see the necessary investment.

The Global TB Caucus which I co-chair will play our part.

Over 2,000 parliamentarians in more than 130 countries, with 45 national TB caucuses across every region of the world, will ask their heads of government and ministers the tough questions.

Did you mean what you said?

What have you done to put this plan into action?

Because words are not enough.

TB was declared a global health emergency 25 years ago.

Since then, 50 million people have died.

Declarations are not enough.

We must take the message to finance ministers that the costs of inaction will be too high to bear.

Without a step change, another 40 million people will lose their lives by 2030 – the year when TB is meant to be beaten.

The cost to the global economy will be a staggering 1 trillion US dollars.

If we let drug resistance get a hold, the costs will be even greater – in fact, they will be catastrophic.

So we can’t afford not to act.

TB treatments are among the most cost-effective of health interventions.

And a relatively small boost in global research and development would produce new tools to fight the disease …

… and be likely to save billions of dollars in the years ahead.

Fairly shared amongst every nation, the price of beating TB will not be too high.

The truth is that doctors know how to treat TB, but the world is refusing to pay for it.

This isn’t a medical problem: it’s a shameful political failure.

Today’s meeting and declaration are a unique chance to put that right.

So let us, at last, mean what we say.

Let us decide – really decide – to beat TB, once and for all, by 2030.

Let us put an end to the unnecessary death and suffering.

And let us make sure that every government finds the will, and the resources, to honour this promise.

A full video of the United Nations High Level Meeting on Tuberculosis is available at this link - (Nick’s speech can be seen from 34:44-40:27).