COVID-19 has changed the world for ever! Apart from affecting the lives of millions of people worldwide, its knock-on effect on the economies of most countries and simultaneously the negative impact on the care and control of some of the other chronic diseases, has been devastating. For most of 2020 the majority of health resources were focussed on combating the virus and finding a vaccine that is not only protective but also sustainable and affordable.
Conferences all over the world had to bow to the new world order. They had to either agree to postponement, cancellation or had to embrace the new virtual reality of organising and presenting, sharing knowledge and expertise in the virtual world.
The organising committee of the 6th TB conference will follow suit. We have decided to reschedule the TB conference, initially planned for June 2020, and to link it to the SA AIDS. The SA AIDS conference was “born” more than twenty years ago after the first African International AIDS Society Conference (IAS) took place in Durban in 2000. Since 2008 the TB Conference, alternated with the SA AIDS conference. As indicated, the TB conference will not only focus on innovation and new developments in TB but will also embrace COVID and bring delegates up to speed with latest developments and new insights into this modern scourge.
Tuberculosis, even in the face of COVID, is arguably still one of the biggest historical killers of mankind with almost a billion people succumbing to this disease over the last two decades. It is far from eradicated and remains the most common cause of death in South Africa with an annual death rate ranging between 50,000 and 70,00 over the last few years. COVID thus far, has caused more than 50,000 deaths in South Africa alone. TB, as with COVID, continues to subvert the health of South Africans long after the disease has been treated due to post-COVID or post-tuberculous lung damage and ongoing pulmonary disability. In COVID, the long term sequalae is commonly referred to as Long-COVID disease.
We need to re-evaluate progress in TB incidence, management and mortality over the last several years in South Africa in the face of COVID-19. Several factors have contributed to progress in TB, such as improvement in HIV care, living standards, and implementation of several interventions by the Department of Health, including the roll-out of newer DNA-based diagnostic tools and drugs, and health system improvements. However, much of the progress has been eroded by the COVID pandemic and the focus on containing the virus. Now more than ever, we need to capitalise on, and sustain gains made in the elimination of TB, by holding hands together and innovating to solve both the TB and COVID challenge.
The 6th South African TB (and COVID) Conference will be a virtual platform (though we are investigating the possibility of a hybrid event) to facilitate and galvanise such efforts, to promote engagement and interaction of stakeholders from government, the private sector, academia, NGOs, and advocacy groups. At the same time, it will create a forum to demonstrate progress, new drugs and diagnostics in TB, new treatment approaches for COVID and the latest in vaccine development.
Join us in taking part in this innovative new way of interacting with colleagues, scientists, programme managers, and community members, both representing national as well as international societies. We are planning an interesting programme which will include international faculty and globally recognised local participants that will cover key cross-cutting themes in TB (drug-sensitive TB, drug-resistant TB, paediatric TB, HIV/TB, EPTB, and prevention, diagnosis and treatment) and COVID (variants, COVID in children, long COVID, and prevention, diagnosis and treatment) across four thematic tracks (Clinical Science, Basic Science, Public Health [including health systems and surveillance], and Human Rights/ Stigma/ Advocacy). In addition, the latest on TB and COVID-19 will be discussed.
Professor Keertan Dheda: Chairperson 6th SA TB Confernce
Dr Margot Uys: Co-Chair 6th SA TB Conference
On behalf of the scientific organising committee