The UN General Assembly (UNGA) will today start its deliberations on how best to address two equally challenging public health issues: tuberculosis (TB) and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

The WHO South-East Asia and its member states have been battling the two public health issues for years.  According to WHO the region accounts for 50 percent of TB-associated mortality. TB is the region’s leading cause of death and lost productive years in the crucial 15-49 years old age group. TB/HIV co-infection is responsible for 25 percent of AIDS-related deaths. On NCDs, though the Region accounts for a bit over a quarter of the world’s population, it is home to around 29 percent of NCD-related premature mortality.

The adverse impact these problems have on health and development – and in the case of TB, on health security – cannot continue, the WHO SEARO states. “Not for the Region’s 1.8 billion people, who have a right to the highest attainable standard of health; nor for the pursuit of the Region’s Flagship Priorities and the Sustainable Development Goal targets.”

Member states are reported making strong gains. In recent years each country has pledged political commitment to tackle TB, through the 2017 ‘Delhi Call for Action’ and the 2018 ‘Statement of Action’ – a bold vow to accelerate sustainable progress to end TB by 2030.

Political resolve to tackle NCDs has also been robust. As per the Colombo Declaration, which Member States adopted in 2016, each of them is committed to integrating NCD services at the primary level, while country-specific multi-sectoral action plans to counter the problem have been developed and rolled out Region-wide.

The high-level meetings at the UN headquarters is expected to provide the region significant scope to consolidate these many gains, accelerate progress, and promote game-changing innovations in each of these areas.

“Of note is the chance to underscore the dramatic increase high-burden countries have made in domestic funding and the accelerated progress adequate resources from the global community could generate.”

While the meeting will emphasise the need to pursue differentiated strategies according to a country’s TB burden, of critical importance to all, is harnessing greater investment in research and development, while influencing and participating in developing low-cost, affordable diagnostics and drugs to treat the disease.

The meeting also provides member states the opportunity to reiterate political momentum and resolve as they reach the half way mark in the quest to reduce premature deaths caused by NCDs by a quarter by 2025. “Importantly, it will also provide an opportunity to highlight where more spending is needed and how governments can be better supported in implementing their country-specific plans.”

Given the opportunities at hand, that outcome is vital. Even as member states region-wide make strong domestic inroads in tackling TB and NCDs, gains must be consolidated, sustainable progress accelerated, and innovation promoted and pursued as a matter of priority. “Each of the UNGA’s High-Level meetings provides the opportunity to make that happen. Now more than ever, by standing tall, highlighting progress and effectively communicating their interests. In the battle against both TB and NCDs, who dares will indeed win.”

Staff Reporter