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The Americas TB Coalition will begin its work of demanding accountability from countries, so that they comply with the Political Declaration. Doubt remains as to whether Peru, whose president attended the meeting, will assume the regional leadership on this progress.
By: Francisco Olivares Antezana
It was no surprise that the plenary segment of the UN High-Level Meeting on tuberculosis (TB) approved the Political Declaration by acclamation. But that member countries comply with commitments undertaken could definitely be a surprise, as only in terms of investment, 13 billion dollars are necessary annually until 2022 to make progress in the eradication of this pandemic.
For Latin America and the Caribbean it was a milestone that the President of Peru, Martín Vizcarra, was the only one in the Region to address the Assembly, which caused concerns as to whether this country would be able to lead the efforts so that the continent manages to comply with self-imposed goals established in the Political Declaration.
“Peru hopes this meeting will allow us to establish sustainable cooperation and complementarity links to fight against tuberculosis worldwide, which will in turn enable synergies vis-à-vis this problem. Additionally, I would like to express Peru’s support to the political declaration we are adopting. Now our challenge is to identify all people affected by tuberculosis and ensure appropriate and effective care for them,” said Vizcarra in New York.
Carlos Rojas, a well-known TB activist in Peru, talked to Corresponsales clave (Key correspondents) from Trujillo. For him, it is a historical milestone that a president of his country has recognized, for the first time ever, in an international forum, the impact of this disease. According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Peru, with 37,000 people with TB, is the nation with the highest number of cases in the region, after Brazil, and the first with more multi-drug resistant tuberculosis cases (3,500 people).
However, he criticized that Vizcarra’s speech was self-indulgent and focused on progress that has only been achieved because of pressure from civil society. He thinks that now the president’s words must transform into concrete actions. For example, he cited the more than 150 people who have been awaiting lung surgery since 2015 to solve TB sequelae, of which only 9 have received surgery.
Corresponsales clave: Given that Vizcarra was the only president who participated in the plenary segment of the High-Level Meeting, what are the chances that Peru may lead its regional peers to comply with the Political Declaration?
Carlos Rojas: First, I deplore that the president of Peru was the only one to attend the meeting. The fact that presidents of high-burden countries like Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia and others have not attend represents a setback in the continent’s response. Second, it is an opportunity for Peru to lead the process–if on the right track–as a role model and be able to articulate Latin American efforts in the response to TB. I think some progress has been made, but they are still insufficient. We need to move faster, with more investment and a human rights-based approach.
From the United States, Alberto Colorado, from the Americas TB Coalition, also gave a positive valuation to Vizcarra’s participation in the United Nations. He believed that, indeed, these are forums in which countries seize the moment to tell others what they do well and that, for the same reason, the speech lacked emphasis on human rights and civil society participation. He added that, since Peru was the only Latin American state to raise the TB flag in the High-Level Meeting, it now has the opportunity to exercise regional leadership on the matter.
Regarding the follow-up of the political declaration’s contents, Colorado announced that TB Coalition members will soon meet to assess what has happened and plan the actions to be taken. A strategy, he said, is that acTBists ask their presidents to sign a shorter version of the declaration. “Civil society will fight for accountability, financing and civil society participation in the response to TB,” the leader emphasized.
With respect to the impact civil society delegations had at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, he stated that, at the end of the first plenary segment of the session, leaders put on masks with the message “zero stigma,” as a way of protesting not only against the stigma still suffered by people with TB and healthcare providers, but also against the political stigma towards the response to this disease on the part of countries.
For this Mexican leader, who is a United States resident, this second stigma–linked to poverty–makes countries contribute to the invisibility of this pandemic that is responsible for the largest number of deaths on the planet.
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