The award-winning singer Craig David, named today as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador against tuberculosis, promises to lead the chorus in the fight against the curable disease which claims 1.8 million lives worldwide every year.
Mr. David told the UN News Centre that he hopes to use his audience of millions worldwide to raise awareness of TB and minimize the stigma attached to it that can prevent many from seeking treatment.
“As a role model through my music, people really do listen to what I say,” he said. At the age of 28, he said that he hopes to reach young people and “speak in a way that I think people will actually understand.”
The British artist travelled to South Africa earlier this month to see first-hand how the disease is impacting the country, where there are nearly 500,000 new TB cases annually out of a total population of close to 50 million.
“It’s been an incredible learning curve for me along the way,” he said. “So to be able to give back in something that I feel very passionate about is something that I wanted to do.”
Mr. David, who also addressed a press conference in New York today, said that he seeks to draw attention to the nature of TB, beyond the acronym itself, in the face of ever-increasing awareness of HIV and AIDS.
Tuberculosis is the second biggest infectious killer of adults around the world and is also one of the top three killers of women of reproductive age.
It is vital, the singer stressed, to “bridge the gap,” to “not overlook the poor who are suffering from TB, but at the same time in the developed countries,” where instances of the disease are on the upswing.
In South Africa, Mr. David met with researchers who are trying to shorten the course of medication, which can range from six months to up to two years for drug-resistant forms of TB.
He also visited two schools, one in a poor area and one in a richer area, finding the awareness of the disease to be very different.
In the poor school, he said, children were aware of the disease, but scared to come forward given its stigma, while in the school in the wealthier zone, students expressed the sentiment of “it’s in the poorer areas so I’m sure they’ll be able to deal with it.”
As Goodwill Ambassador for the Stop TB Partnership backed by the UN World Health Organization (WHO), Mr. David said he hopes to travel to all areas of the world facing major TB outbreaks to spread awareness.
“My voice is the most important part that I’ve been given,” he said. “So why not use that positively rather than think that it’s just [for] music?”
The announcement of his appointment coincides with World Tuberculosis Day, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling for momentum to be maintained in the fight against the deadly disease.
“The world is on track to reverse the spread of this airborne killer,” he said in a message for the Day, paying tribute to the many health-care providers and advocates around the world who have helped to treat and cure 36 million people since 1995.
“But progress should never distract us from the challenges,” the Secretary-General underscored in his message. “The numbers are still staggering.”
A new WHO report issued last week found that drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) is now at record levels, with Asia bearing the brunt of the epidemic. The agency is calling for better diagnosis of the disease.
In some parts of the world, one in four people with TB becomes ill with a form of the disease that can no longer be treated with standard drugs, according to WHO’s Multidrug and Extensively Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis: 2010 Global Report on Surveillance and Response.
Nearly one-third of the 440,000 people with a multidrug-resistant form of the disease (MDR-TB) in 2008 died, it said.
Almost half of the MDR-TB cases occurred in China, where the first nationwide drug resistance survey was conducted, and India. In Africa, estimates show 69,000 cases emerged, the vast majority of which went undiagnosed.