Commissioner for Social Affairs at the African Union Commission
Representatives of Regional Organizations
Ladies and Gentlemen
On behalf of the World Bank, I begin by expressing our appreciation to the African Union Commission for inviting us to join in this World TB Day commemoration. World TB Day is a call to reflection and action for all of us: policy makers, development agencies, private industry stakeholders and those directly affected by TB. The World Bank recognizes that TB control is a major public health and economic development priority for Africa and indeed for the world, and must be tackled forcefully. As spotlighted by scientific surveys conducted within the past three years in several countries, including Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe the magnitude of the TB problem is greater than previously estimated. TB figures prominently in the overall burden of disease on the continent. Despite reductions in global TB deaths between 1990 and 2013, TB remains among the top five causes of death in Southern Africa.
Despite the challenges confronting the TB response, we have entered a new era of possibility as global efforts to end TB have picked up pace. Three years ago, the WHO approved the End TB Strategy; a year later the United Nations adopted Sustainable Development Targets; and it has been five years since Southern Africa Heads of States and governments committed to the SADC Declaration on TB. Growing attention to the TB epidemic at global, continental and regional levels is a chance to reenergize and double down our efforts to tackle the burden of TB—a disease with no borders and that disproportionately impacts the poorest populations…but which is treatable and preventable.
On this important day, let me highlight a few things:
First, governments have demonstrated willingness to work across national borders and sectors to address the TB epidemic and underlying health systems challenges. This collaboration presents opportunity to tackle various dimensions of the TB epidemic, including aspects beyond the scope of public health alone, such as mining and social protection sectors. In Southern Africa, governments, development partners and the private sector have joined forces with promising results upon which the World Bank recognizes we can together expand and innovate, and with high return for streamlined investment.
Second, this event and other efforts and initiatives by governments across Africa underscore the region’s growing political commitment to jointly tackle TB. This is a signal that we must act now; we are all aware that only with high-level commitment and leadership can we accomplish our goals. World Bank support to various projects and initiatives to address the burden of TB—including the recently approved Southern Africa TB and Health Systems Support Project, the East Africa Public Health Laboratory Networking Project and the TB in the Mines Initiative—is a response to the galvanizing of efforts by policy makers and political leadership in Africa to address regional dimensions of the TB epidemic.
Third, at the global level, ending the TB epidemic by 2030 is among the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals. On World TB Day and in this context of increasingly ambitious efforts and targets to end TB, we must remind ourselves that business as usual will not bring an end to this epidemic. As such, we are tasked with finding innovative, cost-effective ways to deliver high impact TB prevention and care services and to find ways to build on and exchange existing expertise and regional strengths.
Fourth, we cannot end TB without strengthening public health systems. TB screening, diagnosis and treatment must be timely, efficient and effective. As they stand now, health systems throughout the region are ill-equipped to deal with the size, scale and scope of the TB burden and cases still go undetected and untreated. Occupational health and mine health legislation is outdated and unregulated; and weak surveillance systems do not effectively track and monitor TB and other infectious diseases, particularly given their cross-border nature. The successes in establishing the Uganda Supranational Reference Lab currently serving 20 National TB Reference Labs bears testimony to the huge returns from investing in health systems and of partnerships to which the Bank is proud to be participating.
Finally, TB’s impact on a nation’s productivity—and indeed the regional economy—calls for greater collaboration between regional governments and the private sector, who must step up and harmonize their TB eradication efforts. The private sector and government have a social and economic responsibility and a vested interest in facing this issue head-on, together.
A well-known African proverb says, “If you want to go fast go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” This is the essence of the World Bank’s support to regional efforts to tackle the burden of TB. We do not have an easy task in front of us, but we have a powerful network of collaborators and the national and regional level will, commitment, expertise and creativity to advance progress towards ending TB.
The World Bank appreciates the opportunity to meet with you here today, and we are proud to support some truly innovative and necessary innovations on this continent. We look ahead with great hope and determination as we work together to strengthen health systems and to end TB.
In all our efforts, let us not lose sight of households and individuals affected by TB. For they are the ones who bear the harsh realities of the TB epidemic.