Yesterday we heard on the news that levels of carbon dioxide in the global atmosphere were the highest they’ve been for 800,000 years (“persisting” at levels above 400 parts per million for the first time since well before anyone began recording anything on tablets of clay or any other medium, and also twice the age at which homo sapiens began leaving its mark on our world by burning fossil fuels).
Yesterday (though sadly not on the news – surprise, surprise…) we also learnt about the current state of play with tuberculosis with the release of the WHO’s annual Global TB Report (http://www.who.int/tb/publications/global_report/en/), and whilst levels of TB have certainly been recorded higher in previous centuries, we now have a new high of deadly drug-resistant TB that is still being shamefully ignored.
So (apart from their coincidental press releases) what do these two two media announcements have in common? Well it’s two things basically: one is that (for both issues) it really is ‘now or never’ if we want to see things change for the better; and the other is that the human suffering that is going to result from them both (unless drastic steps are taken) is going to bear down mercilessly on the most vulnerable of our fellow human beings – because with each of these two foaming horses of apocalypse working together it makes for a very frightening prospect indeed for the world’s poor.
So what does this new TB Report actually say?
Its wording is (as usual) muted: “Overall, the latest picture is one of a still high burden of disease, and progress that is not fast enough to reach targets or to make major headway in closing persistent gaps.” What this adds up to is pretty much the same appalling rates of new disease and of TB deaths as the year before – exactly at the point of time when both need to be dropping fast (in the first reported year of the post-2015 era). This is because a target has been set to see TB pretty much defeated in the next fifteen years. “Compared with the  baseline”, warns Dr Lucica Ditiu (executive director of the Stop TB Partnership, “there is no progress.”
And please note that fifteen years, as far as the terms and conditions laid down on mankind by this very ancient enemy are concerned, is a very short time indeed.
She says she really doesn’t want to go over more of the numbers numbers – and nor do we because we’ve done that enough already. What Lucica wants us all to realise is that 2018 is “the year to make it or break it” – effectively to engender global engagement with this terrible disease or a far too small bunch of heroes will end up struggling on trying to minimise the carnage but essentially accepting defeat from a disease that has been almost entirely curable for nearly 70 years.
And of course exactly the same sort of sentiments apply to Climate Change. But what's interesting is that in both cases next year actually begins next month: for Climate Change it begins at a Climate Conference in Bonn on the 6th to the 17th of November, and for TB at a Global Ministerial Meeting taking place in Moscow on the 16th and 17th. If we don’t see some action in the streets of both cities disturbing, not just the peace, but merely witness more of the same appalling political complacencies and empty soundbites that have dogged progress in both issues, then the world’s poor really are in very serious trouble indeed. In fact, as the descendants of those same human beings who honed their human ingenuities back in Africa 300,000 years ago we should surely hang our collective heads in shame because we will once again have turned our heads away and in so doing taken our species not just to the brink but to a new and most appalling low.
As Dr Isaac Chikwanha (MSF’s Medical Advisor for TB, HIV and Hepatitis C) baldly put it yesterday in his own official response to yesterday’s Report – “What are we waiting for?”