Speech by TAC’s Anele Yawa at Closing of Lung Conference

*This is a transcript of the speech given by General Secretary, Anele Yawa, at the closing ceremony of the 46th Union World Conference on Lung Health

Delegates, friends, comrades,

I thank you for the opportunity to address you. I am the General Secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign here in South Africa. We have more than 8,000 members and 182 branches across the country. Our members are dependent on a struggling public healthcare system. Most of our members ar the poorest of the poor. 

Here in my country more than 80,000 people died of TB last year. World-wide 1.5 million people died of TB last year. The world is facing a TB emergency.

Yet, TB remains neglected. Every year we get only a third of the money we need for TB research in the world. We need $2 billion per year. We only get $0.7 billion. TB kills 1.5 million people a year, but we can’t even find $2 billion

Think about this statistic – 40% of TB deaths are in BRICS countries. Yet, the BRICS countries contribute only 3.6% of the money for TB research. In the BRICS our people are dying of TB, but our governments are not investing in TB research. This is a disgrace.

We  say to the government of China . We say to President Xi Jinping. Your people are dying of TB. Why are you not investing in TB research?

We say to the government of India. We say to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Your people are dying of TB. Why are you not investing in TB research?

We say to our government here in South Africa. We say to President Jacob Zuma. TB is killing your people. Why do you invest less than R100 million per year on TB research? We can pay for Nkandla. We can pay R4 billion for a presidential jet, but we can’t find more than R100 million for TB research?

As we did at our march on Thursday, we demand again that all BRICS countries and Indonesia triple their investment in TB research over the next year. We can’t just tinker and settle for incremental change while our borthers and sisters are dying. We demand a revolution in funding of TB research.

Friends, comrades. Why does the world not invest in TB? Why is TB not a priority for heads of state? The answer is very simple. It is because TB mostly affects poor people. It is because we are poor. This is why the world can turn its back on us.

Comrades, the lack of investment in TB is a political problem. It is political, because at its essence it is about governments not being held accountable for failing to respond to TB. We are not going to change it if we accept business as usual. We can’t win this battle if we don’t make it a political battle. And to make it work as a political battle, we will have to put poor people from affected communities at the centre of our response. We will have to organise and mobilise. And then be willing to our hold our governments to account. 

This week the Union is talking about a ‘new agenda’. We appreciate the new agenda. It is a step in the right direction. But the thing we need most in TB is not a new agenda. We need a new attitude

We need to ask some tough questions of ourselves and of the Union. Why is the Union based in Paris? And not in Delhi? Why is next year’s conference in Liverpool? Why, at a moment where we need to draw more affected people into our response to the TB crisis, why at such a moment, take the conference away from where the people are? Why are there no seats on the Union board allocated to civil society representatives?

Friends, comrades, in the TB world we too often beg for a place at the table. With that attitude we will never defeat TB. 1.5 million people died last year. Comrades, when 1.5 million people die then we have a right to demand. In fact, When 1.5 million people die, we have a moral obligation to demand. So, we demand that all high-burden countries declare TB a public health emergency. We demand that these countries implement all the new tools and policies we have at our disposal to fight TB. We demand that the BRICS countries triple their funding for TB research. 

If governments do not do these things, we must hold them accountable. We must fight this battle in the boardrooms. We must take it to the streets. And, if we have to, we must take it to the courts.

I appeal to all of you to join us in this work. 1.5 million deaths is an emergency. It is time we start acting as if it is an emergency.

It is time not just for a new agenda, but for a new attitude. No more begging for scraps. From now on we demand.

I thank you