“The Union World Conference on Lung Health is the largest annual meeting focusing on the issues as they relate to low- and middle-income countries and populations,” says The Union website. Tuberculosis is one of the important topics covered during the conference held every year in different countries. This year’s venue was Liverpool.
But why Liverpool, I wonder. Is United Kingdom one of the TB high burden countries in the world? Far from it. Last year the conference was held in Cape Town, South Africa. But the Union Conefernce on Lung Health in 2014 was held in Barcelona, Spain. The 2013 conference was in Paris, the 2012 conference was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 2011 conference was in Lille, France and the 2010 conference was in Berlin, Germany.
Except South Africa, which is one of the high-burden countries like India, none of the other countries where the conference was held is anywhere close to being a high-burden country.
India has the highest TB burden in the world. The data released two weeks ago by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has revealed that India’s TB burden estimate shot up from 2.2 million in 2014 to 2.8 million in 2015. And this upward revision is only “interim” we are told. The true burden will be known only when India completes the national survey that will begin next year. The number of TB deaths more than doubled from 220,000 in 2014 to 483,000 in 2015.
Yet, it’s a long time since the conference was held in India, if at all. If the global war against TB can be won only when TB incidence in India is reined in, the first thing The Union should do is to hold the 2017 conference in India. But sadly, that is surely not going to happen. That is because the selection is based on a bidding process. And the bidding for the 2017 conference has already been completed. Given the dubious distinction of being the world’s capital in terms of number of TB patients, India will surely not bid for the conference anytime in the future.
But the conference, which brings in some 4,000 experts from about 130 countries, will be an ideal opportunity to turn the spotlight on the inadequate steps taken by India to fight the infectious disease. Many reporters from English and language newspapers, magazines and online only websites will be able to attend the meetings and cover the event in great detail. Instead of a couple of news items carried by a handful of newspapers, we would see many articles written by almost every newspaper, magazine and online only websites. TV channels in India would also carry at least the highlights. The conference will act like a pressure point for India.
It will also provide an excellent opportunity for TB activists in India and NGOs to turn the heat on the government. There surely will be a handful of TB survivors who will be willing to highlight problems that the government and international experts are not aware of. And it will be very difficult for the Union health minister and other senior health ministry officials not to attend the conference.
Since there are so many advantages of holding the conference in India, and knowing that India on its own will not bid for holding the conference, can The Union think out of the box to find a way of holding it in India?
Fighting TB in India needs a lot of imagination and novel approaches, besides willingness and determination. The Union too should exhibit some novelty in its approach.