Feature story

Advocate Gerry Elsdon: A voice and a face for TB

30 April 2010

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(from left) Dr Mario Raviglione, Director WHO Stop TB Department; Ms Gerry Elsdon, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) Advocate for TB, Mr Michel Sidibé UNAIDS Executive Director; and Dr Marcos Espinal, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership. Credit: UNAIDS

Gerry Elsdon was at the height of her professional career as a popular TV personality in South Africa when she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Living in an affluent Johannesburg suburb, Gerry was shocked to find her nearest TB clinic was hidden behind a number of buildings, “as if it was something to be ashamed of”. It was this experience that prompted her to become an advocate for the rights of people affected by TB.

Nine years on, Ms Elsdon is a passionate voice speaking out about the gaps in TB services. Gerry visited the UNAIDS Secretariat headquarters on 29 April and joined a panel with Dr Mario Raviglione, Director WHO Stop TB Department and Dr Marcos Espinal, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership. The discussion with staff was chaired by Mr Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS.

Ms Elsdon is now an International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) Advocate for TB and volunteer for CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation, the Othandweni Children’s Home and the Lilly MDR-TB Partnership.

TB is thought to be responsible for one in four deaths of HIV-positive people, yet it is a curable disease. More TB screening and treatment for people living with HIV—through fully integrated TB/HIV services—would be an important and an essential step to reduce TB’s burden on people living with HIV. It’s an approach Ms Elsdon believes would make a difference. She spoke of the value of a clinic facility where a person get be counselled and tested for HIV followed by a TB test in an adjacent room.

In 2007, there were an estimated 1.37 million new cases of tuberculosis among people living with HIV and TB was responsible for 456 000 deaths. Preventing people living with HIV dying from tuberculosis is one of the priorities in the UNAIDS Outcome Framework 2009-11.

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UNAIDS Outcome Framework 2009-11