'I cannot hear you, but I will make sure you hear me loud and clear!'
We've been taking a quick look through some of the statements made at last week’s HLM on TB in New York. There’s every reason to be cautious about them: there’s twenty-five years of targets and aspirations made by politicians in grand halls in places like New York and Geneva which have subsequent been left in the gutter – and a 50 million plus death toll in these 25 years as a result (from a disease which has been curable for the last 50).
Gaining a global platform like the UN and getting heads of state to make big speeches is unquestionably a huge achievement; but seeing them follow through on their commitments is the only result worth really valuing as every TB activist knows.
Actually only one speech really jumped out at us (in fact it really made our hearts sing!). This was the opening address made by Nandita Venkatesan (who’s not a politician at all). Nandita is an MDR-TB survivor from India and she opened with true elegance by addressing what she had to say to “respected dignitaries, and my dear fellow TB survivors and friends”, before describing some of her personal experiences – specifically what “the so-called ‘treatable’ disease” (as she put it) did to her over eight “long” years of treatment.
In 2007, as a teenager, Nandita was diagnosed with intestinal TB. She kept on through college, though, “gulping down 15 tablets a day and braving side-effects” following which she was declared cured. But in 2013, she fell sick again with the same stomach pains and was re-diagnosed – but this time with MDR-TB, “deteriorating rapidly with 6 surgeries, a battery of medication including 200 injections, debilitating side-effects, severe weight and hair loss”.
But the worst was still to come: two days after her 23rd birthday, Nandita “woke up from an afternoon nap to complete silence”. As she so tellingly put it to the global assembly, she’d become stone deaf “in the blink of an eye”.
“Esteemed Heads of State”, she called out at the UN last week, “you must act now. Your declaration will make a difference only if it’s backed by actions!”
Nandita made a huge point of telling those present that survivors like her have “a burning desire to shake the status quo”. “Esteemed leaders and all partners”, she concluded, “I cannot hear you, but I will make sure you hear me loud and clear.”
We hear you Nandita, be in no doubt that we hear you loud and clear! So please keep shaking that tree of political complacency and collective neglect, and allow us all to help you shake it alongside you.