Today Michel Sidibe, the newly appointed executive director of UNAIDS took the organization in a bold new direction. Under his predecessor, founding director Peter Piot, TB was given little attention by UNAIDS. But today, Michel Sidibe came to Rio to tell the world that TB/HIV will be one of his key priorities. Given that it's the biggest killer of people living with HIV that seems only fitting.
And he did so in a way that befits the approach of the AIDS world - smart strategy and a commitment to inclusion. Mr. Sidibe spoke at the launch of the WHO global TB report and showed fire and passion. He told the story of a recent trip to South Africa's Kyalesha - the formerly black township - where he met people alive because of TB/HIV programs who helped convince him that TB and HIV must be brought together.
"Universal Access is my priority because it is about social justice, because it is about reaching the unreachable. Because only 600,000 people living with HIV were screened for TB in 2007 and the target is 14 million. Only 30,000 have access to preventive therapy when the target is 1.4 million."
"We have to stop people living with HIV from dying of tuberculosis," he said boldly.
Then he followed the high profile press conference with a much more intimate meeting. I joined about 20 activists, civil society members, and managers of national TB programs for an hour long - initial - discussion on what UNAIDS should do about TB. He did a rare thing for a global leader - he spent an hour listening. He opened the session by stating he is committed to addressing TB/HIV and then heard from people from Zambia, Kenya, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, and many other countries.
What he heard was that, sadly, bureaucracy is too often blocking good public health. Program managers reported that they know what to do, but there's no political will to coordinate HIV and TB programs. Meanwhile, activists called on Mr. Sidibe to use his platform to make it clear that every HIV program must have a TB component to be adequate.
It was the kind of meeting I've rarely seen, and I'm honestly looking forward to seeing what Michel Sidibe does next: he could have such a huge impact on TB.