The first plenary session of the 49th Union World Conference on Lung Health focused on human rights-based approach to lung health, reflecting the overall theme of the conference, Declaring Our Rights: Social and Political Solutions.
Chairing the session, Michael Frick, TB Project Co-Director in Treatment Action Group TB Project, opened the session with the hope to understand what tuberculosis (TB) can offer to human rights, and what human rights can offer to TB.
“From Baltimore to Bangalore, the fact is that the vast majority of people with TB face staggering stigma, discrimination, and human rights violations”, said Coco Jervis, from the Global Network of People Living with HIV. She urged all to put people with TB at the centre of decisions about their care, and that access to services should not just be biomedical, but holistic.
Dr Farhang Tahzib from the Faculty of Public Health spoke about the ethics of immigration and health, saying, “Social injustice is killing on a grand scale”. He highlighted that much of the research currently on health care solutions and access to health care include bias and discrimination against migrants, and urged those gathered to change their focus to ensure that acceptable standards of healthcare are accessible to migrants.
The closing speaker shared an emotional and personal perspective on TB and human rights. Carrie Bourassa, Science Director of Canadian Institutes of Health Research, spoke about her first-hand experience of the stigma and racism that North American indigenous people suffer when they are diagnosed and treated for TB.
Both Bourassa and the grandfather who raised her, were diagnosed and treated for TB. They each faced massive stigma and problems accessing care. Sharing a powerful statistic with the audience, Bourassa said “the incidence rate of TB amongst Inuit people in Canada in 2016 was 296 times higher than the rate in the Canadian born non-indigenous population”, and she stressed the urgent need to address “systemic racism, bias and discrimination in the care and treatment of indigenous peoples”.
Closing the session, she pressed for Indigenous peoples to no longer carry the inordinate burden of health issues across the world.
This session delivered an over-riding message that urgent action is needed to address the inequity in the care and treatment of the world’s most vulnerable people.