Chasing away the deadly duo

A new conference, TB2016, will take place next year right before AIDS2016 in Durban, South Africa. RESULTS Global Health Campaigns’ Director Sarah Kirk tells us why our grassroots volunteers should be celebrating…

When I tell people what I do for a living, I often end up sharing what remains one of the most bizarre stories of my professional life.

The short version goes like this: “I once watched my colleague chase Bill Clinton while dressed up as Tuberculosis!” The reaction is usually wide eyes, guffawing laughter, and disbelief. Naturally.

The longer version goes like this: In July 2014, the International AIDS Conference took place in Melbourne. RESULTS, as a movement of passionate, committed everyday people who use their voices to influence political decisions that will bring an end to poverty, naturally had an interest in a conference centred on a disease that kills over 1 million people each year and disproportionately affects those living in poverty.

As long-time advocates for better diagnosis, treatment and prevention of Tuberculosis, we had an interest in AIDS 2014 too. Why? Well, it turns out that 1 in 5 people worldwide who are living with HIV, die of TB. That’s 20% of people who could live a long, healthy life with adequate treatment for HIV, dying needlessly because of TB – a preventable and treatable disease.

In recognition of this terrible statistic, myself and colleagues from the ACTION Global Health Advocacy Partnership organised the first ever TB-HIV Networking Zone at an International AIDS Conference.

We held press conferences, released a report, held presentations, and unleashed the #DeadlyDuo onto the conference attendees. These two oversized and comical mascots, representing HIV and TB, were inseparable, representing that wherever HIV goes, TB follows.

It was while wearing the hot, stuffy, hard-to-see-out-of costumes that they spotted Bill Clinton, and gave chase in their oversized novelty shoes. What they’d have done if they caught him I don’t know – probably secured one of the more highly-coveted selfies of the conference. As it was, the 20-odd secret service agents around him thwarted them at the last moment.

What wasn’t thwarted though, was our grassroots volunteers’ commitment to highlighting the deadly duo of TB and HIV, and calling for better integration when tackling these epidemics. They wrote letters to the editor, wrote to members of Parliament, and spoke to visitors of the TB-HIV Networking Zone.

And now their message is being echoed and acted upon by the International AIDS Society, the World Health Organisation, Stop TB Partnership, The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, the UN Special Envoy on TB, RESULTS and ACTION Global Health Advocacy Partnership, as organisers of TB2016.

Described as “a unique partnership between HIV and TB scientists and advocates, convened to draw attention around the need for greater urgency and innovation to combat both epidemics” by the International AIDS Society, this event is a significant milestone in the fight against both epidemics.

And a very welcome recognition of the interlinked nature of these diseases that our advocates have long been calling for.

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