WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the high-level meeting on TB – 22 September 2023

22 September 2023

Your Excellency Dennis Francis, President of the General Assembly,

My sister, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed,

Your Excellency Paula Narvaez, President of ECOSOC,

Austin Obiefuna, Vice-Chair of the Stop TB Partnership,

Marisol Touraine, Chair of the UNITAID Executive Board,

Handaa Enkh-Amgalan, TB survivor and author,

Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,

Tuberculosis is as old as humanity itself.

It has afflicted kings and queens, poets and politicians, revolutionaries and writers, activists and actors. No one was spared.

It has been depicted in art, literature and opera.

It has had many names: the white plague, the King’s evil, Scrofula, consumption.

It was only 184 years ago that the name tuberculosis was given to this disease.

And it was only 141 years ago that Robert Koch identified the bacterium that causes it.

This microbe has plagued humanity for millennia, and plagues us still.

In 2021, TB killed more than 1 million people, and struck millions more.

In the time it takes me to make these remarks, 10 people will die with tuberculosis somewhere in the world.

Most are poor, marginalised or malnourished, and the out-of-pocket costs associated with treating TB expose them to financial hardship or drive them further into poverty.

TB is the definitive disease of deprivation.

In the Sustainable Development Goals, you, the nations of the world, committed to ending the global TB epidemic by 2030.

And at the first High-level meeting on TB five years ago, you set ambitious targets on expanding treatment, prevention, testing, funding, research and more.

While together we have saved millions of lives, we have fallen short of those targets.

We set a target to reach 40 million people with TB with treatment, and we reached 34 million.

We set a target to reach 30 million people with preventive treatment, but only reached half that many.

We set a target to more than double funding for TB to US$13 billion a year. But in fact, funding went backwards.

But it’s not all bad news. We now have new and powerful tools that we didn’t have five years ago:

Rapid diagnostics to test for TB in less than two hours;

And effective treatment regimens, including for drug-resistant TB;

But there is one important tool we still need, and that’s a new vaccine.

The only licensed TB vaccine was developed more than a century ago.

It saves thousands of lives every year by protecting young children, but does not adequately protect adolescents and adults, who account for most TB transmission.

That’s why WHO has established a TB Vaccine Acceleration Council, to facilitate the development, licensing and equitable use of new TB vaccines. The high-level members of the council met for the first time this week.

The political declaration you have just approved includes new ambitious targets that we must pursue with even more dedication, collaboration and innovation:

You have committed to reach 90 percent of people with TB prevention and care;

To use the WHO-recommended rapid test as the first method of diagnosis;

To provide social benefit packages to all people with TB so they don’t endure financial hardship;

To license at least one new TB vaccine.

And to close funding gaps for TB implementation and research.

We need all hands on deck: countries, partners, civil society, affected people and communities, and donors.

I thank the co-facilitators of the process, Ambassadors Krzysztof Szczerski of Poland and Bakhtiyor Ibragimov of Uzbekistan, for your leadership.


For millennia, our ancestors have suffered and died with this disease, without knowing what it was, what caused it, or how to stop it.

Today, we have knowledge and tools they could only have dreamed of.

We have political commitment.

And we have an opportunity that no generation in the history of humanity has had: the opportunity to write the final chapter in the story of TB.

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