22 September 2023 | News

Unitaid’s Executive Chair calls for action on TB at UN High-Level Meeting  

The Chair of Unitaid’s Executive Board and former French Minister of Social Affairs and Health, Marisol Touraine, addressed the high-level delegation. UN Web TV (screenshot)

On 22 September, heads of state and leaders in global health came together at the United Nations High-Level Meeting on Tuberculosis to get efforts to end TB back on track. The Chair of Unitaid’s Executive Board and former French Minister of Social Affairs and Health, Marisol Touraine, addressed the high-level delegation.

Her remarks are reproduced in full below.

Distinguished President of the General Assembly and Secretary General, Esteemed Director General of WHO, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, it is an honor for me and a great responsibility to carry before you the hopes of all those who fight the daily battle against the scourge of tuberculosis: patients, health professionals, activists, scientists.

I want to carry the hope that the declaration this General Assembly will adopt will be rapidly implemented in tangible measures for the patients.

The hope that tuberculosis won’t be a one-day priority but will remain an everyday mobilization.

Now, if you allow me, I will use my privilege to speak in French.

[Translated from French]

The world is not sufficiently aware that tuberculosis is the deadliest infectious disease after Covid-19.

The situation is dramatic – just a few months of the pandemic were enough to undermine progress achieved over years of commitment: drug resistance is intensifying, prevention is inadequate and patients sometimes wait months for treatment. Every year, four million people are not screened because tests are still too complex and too expensive. Every day, more than 650 children die of tuberculosis. It’s unbearable because it is a disease of poverty, which strikes the poor and impoverishes the sick. But solutions do exist.

Our collective mobilization must therefore be equal to this challenge: we must guarantee equitable access to prevention and care. To this end, I welcome the General Assembly’s vision this year, which places the battle against tuberculosis alongside the two other health priorities of pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, and universal health coverage. On the condition, however, that these three debates converge and give rise to a common strategy because the battle against tuberculosis calls for a global and coherent vision, not only in scientific and medical terms, but also in social terms.

As President of Unitaid, I know that these challenges are within our grasp if we mobilize and innovate. Unitaid has become the leading multilateral funder of tuberculosis research and development. We work with multiple partners to identify innovations that will become concrete solutions for patients.

Our work has led to the launch of the first anti-tuberculosis drugs for children, and has helped to advance pediatric diagnosis of the disease by diversifying the type of samples used. We helped rapidly expand access to shorter, more effective preventive treatments by reducing their price by 80%. We have played a key role in obtaining technologies that can rapidly identify multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, and we have funded massive studies and clinical trials that are transforming its treatment, making it easier to take and less toxic.

This progress can and must be continued and amplified. Unitaid will continue to play its part, but everyone must play theirs: so that patients can be treated quickly, and so that the cost of tests and treatments can be brought down.

This challenge calls for more innovation, more cooperation, more mobilization. The fight against tuberculosis must be at the heart of a strategy to strengthen the provision of primary healthcare. Partnerships are essential, and in this respect, I am delighted with the work carried out between Unitaid and WHO. Cooperation with civil society and affected communities is crucial if we are to reach to those who need our support more quickly. Just this week, Unitaid has launched a call for proposals to fight multidrug-resistant tuberculosis through affected communities.

We need an effective vaccine, and I salute the efforts of the Gates Foundation and others to advance this development. Real progress has been made in terms of access to medicines: I solemnly call on the pharmaceutical industry to go even further and to make a resolute commitment to making their innovations accessible to all, in particular by renouncing secondary patents, which will enable a quality generics market.

So, to all of you – excellencies, citizens, researchers and activists – I say: there is hope, success is within our reach.

Let’s make today the moment that marks change.

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