Interview with Dr Jorge Sampaio, former President of Portugal, as his first Special Envoy to Stop Tuberculosis.
By Glenn Thomas.
Two months ago (May 2006) the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, appointed Dr Jorge Sampaio, the former President of Portugal, as his first Special Envoy to Stop Tuberculosis. Dr Sampaio’s role will be to build heightened awareness of this leading killer of our time. His immediate task will be to encourage world leaders to strengthen their commitment to TB control, and to work to reach the Millennium Development Goal of halting and beginning to reverse the incidence of the disease by 2015. Dr Sampaio was elected President of Portugal in 1996 and served for ten years in office.
Why did the UN Secretary General
appoint a Special Envoy for Stop TB?
As I see it, for two main reasons. On the one hand because the fight against TB needs more visibility and on the other, because it needs high level political leadership. Although TB is a curable and preventable disease, it is a major killer with 1.7 million deaths per year caused by TB. Thus urgent action is necessary to scale up our efforts to stop TB.
Have you come in with a specific agenda
I’d prefer to think of it as a set of tasks to be achieved in a framework. The framework is made up by the Millennium Development Goal of halting and beginning to reverse the incidence of TB by 2015 and by the Global Plan to Stop TB 2006-2015. I hope that I can use my political clout to generate public awareness about TB and to persuade world leaders to play their part in fully funding and implementing the Global Plan, which aims to achieve enormous progress towards TB elimination. I’ll be working closely with WHO and the Stop TB Partnership, which are leading the fight against TB, to ensure my role as UN Special Envoy is productive.
How many countries face the threat of TB?
TB is a global disease of poverty. Virtually all TB deaths are in the developing world, affecting mostly young adults in their most productive years. There are almost 9 million new TB cases a year. But we are also aware that the threat of multidrug-resistant TB, or MDR-TB, is a serious threat to public health in Eastern Europe, likewise TB/HIV in Africa. Both these regions need special attention, especially if we are to succeed in reaching the Millennium Development Goal by 2015.
What action do you propose to take in
the face of MDR-TB in Europe?
We need urgent and political action. There must be no excuses. To help achieve this, I will be taking part in a Ministerial Forum on the TB emergency facing Europe in October in Copenhagen. For the time being my role, as I see it, is rather about fostering strong commitment from all quarters, to ensure that the Global Plan to Stop TB 2006-2015 is fully funded and implemented.
Do you have enough funding to stop
No. Full funding of the Global Plan to Stop TB over the next 10 years will cost US$ 56 billion and requires a three-fold increase in investment. But there is still a funding gap, estimated as US$ 31 billion. Something has to be done on this issue. I hope we can help in finding ways of filling the gap. Anyway, the rewards are high. Full funding would save 14 million lives.
Will you be based in Geneva?
Nowadays, with new information technologies, it is possible to be based in Lisbon while at the same time work very closely with WHO’s Stop TB Department and the Stop TB Partnership whose secretariat is based in Geneva. They will be co-ordinating my calendar of activities with my office in Lisbon. We have to take full advantage of all these powerful tools offered by the digital age to adapt and rationalize old working methods and procedures. But of course I’ll travel to Geneva as often as necessary.
How do you plan to use the power of the
media to spread the word on TB?
Media is vital. Communicating the urgency around TB is a core focus. The Global Plan outlines the strategies relating to global and country advocacy. And of course, I’ll certainly be advocating myself on TB issues at press events and other media opportunities where TB can be raised. TB remains a neglected disease in comparison to many others, and I do believe that we have to focus on raising awareness and also educating communities so that we can end the misery associated with tuberculosis deaths.