The Union

A conference where hope abounded

A New Agenda has shaped the 46th Union World Conference on Lung Health in Cape Town and inspired a community of over 4,000 delegates to take up the fight of this new era. 

As well as being the largest World Lung Health conference to date, this year’s event offered a record number of sessions over the five-day scientific programme, including a full schedule of activities in the community space, IMBIZO.

José Luis Castro, The Union’s Executive Director, paid tribute to The Union and its membership at the Closing Ceremony: “As an organisation we have survived world wars, economic calamities and crises throughout the world.  And we’re still here.”

As a pre-cursor to the conference, close to 50 parliamentarians from 30 countries came to Cape Town for the Global TB Summit.  This event, co-chaired by the Rt Hon Nick Herbert MP (UK) and Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, South African Health Minister, called upon parliamentarians to persuade their respective governments of the urgent need for action on TB, including the access to proper treatment for everyone affected.  The Summit climax was an endorsement by all the members of the Stop TB Partnership's Global Plan to End TB 2016–2020: The Paradigm Shift.

During the conference itself there were some critical scientific revelations and updates promising to have real impact on patients who live with TB.

The TB Alliance and its partners announced the availability of the first child-friendly TB medicines. These improved formulations are dissolvable and flavoured so that they are simple for health care providers and parents to administer and easy for children to take.

Delegates learned that people living with MDR-TB are being effectively treated with a nine-month treatment regimen.  And there are better regimens to come, including a nine-month regimen that requires zero injections and a six-month regimen for MDR-TB.

The Union shared studies into the impact of TB on key affected populations – and there were inspiring presentations on vulnerable population groups: children, farmers and people in prison.  Said Paul Bourdillon, a student at Yale Medical School, on his investigations into prison populations in Brazil, “Before we can even think about eradicating TB in Brazil, we need to eliminate it in its prisons.”

Civil society made its own impact on the conference with the ‘Together to #EndTB’ march.  Nearly 1,000 people marched from the outskirts of Cape Town to the city centre where they were joined by Dr Motsoaledi who assured the demonstrators of his – and his government’s – commitment to access to care and medicine for all TB patients: “Any human being on this planet who has TB must have access to treatment.”

Imbizo was a community space on a grand vibrant scale, bringing together events, discussion and learning; and delegates with the public.  The collaborative mural painting spelled out the message loud and clear by the conference end: A Future Without TB.

The 4th President’s Centennial Dinner, held in the natural beauty of the Cavalli Wine and Stud Farm in Cape Town, reminded delegates of the importance of continually raising funds to support health and care initiatives.  This year, the dinner raised $200,000 for The Centennial Campaign – bringing the total to over $1 million.

But some of the most powerful moments of this five-day conference came from the real-life stories told by people who have lived with, through and beyond TB.  Delegates at the Inaugural Session rose in a spontaneous standing ovation in response to the powerful testimony of Juliet Vivien Nalumu who spoke movingly about her experiences as a TB/HIV patient.  And Phumeza Tisile, who lost her hearing (later restored through cochlear implantation) while being treated for XDR-TB, but found a voice campaigning on behalf of others.  Constance Manwa, who spoke about surviving TB and living with HIV and said she had learned to “live positively”. This was a conference where stories of hope abounded.