GFAN Speaker: TB advocates are finding their voice |

Our GFAN Speaker, Louie Zepeda-Teng, joined world leaders and civil society to fight to end tuberculosis at the 46th Union World Conference on Lung Health in Cape Town, South Africa in December 2015.

Sadly, tuberculosis is currently the top infectious disease killer worldwide according to the World Health Organization. This statistic encourages me to continue to speak about my experiences with tuberculosis so that it doesn’t happen to others and to make sure that disability issues and patient empowerment are included in public health programs.

Back at the 2012 Conference, I remember the lack of participation of survivors like me in these collaborations. Now I can really sense that more people are seeing the importance of bringing in the voices of the affected. I always tell my audience that TB is not just a medical problem, it’s also a social problem. No matter how good the drugs are, how fast the diagnosis becomes, service providers still need to remember to have compassion and to work with their patients with open ears and open hearts.

It was so excited to hear familiar voices, like the other survivor friends I met in at the 2014 Conference. We have all evolved so quickly as advocates, making sure we are doing our part in educating everyone who still doesn’t know the disease. I appreciate groups like TB Proof for their continuous support of my advocacy on disability inclusion in their health program. Every time they tell me how they remember my talks, it makes me feel fulfilled in my decision to be a global speaker.

On the first day of my stay in Cape Town, I participated in the meetings of the Global TB Caucus. I had the fortunate opportunity to witness this group’s first meeting in Sydney, Australia last September. This Caucus includes members of parliament from all over the world who are dedicated to strengthen efforts in their respective governments to end TB. I am so proud of my own MP for co-chairing the Asia-Pacific Caucus. I believe this Caucus can help to support the replenishment of the Global Fund and promote the rightful participation of all populations within the TB-affected community. Myself and other TB survivors and advocates in my country are also anticipating the founding of a Filipino National TB Caucus this year, too.

I also joined a dinner hosted by ACTION for the new TB Ambassadors they are training. As one of their and GFAN’s ambassadors, I felt the solid mission all of us feel in being speakers for the three diseases. I know that these interactions make us survivors feel the greater mission in life. All of these capacity building and technical assistance will surely be recorded as best practices in dealing with future epidemics.

Experiencing the disease and surviving it, makes it look like I earned another degree. No one else can describe and determine how everyday feels and what will work but us the affected. Up til now, the information about the disease and the numerous strategies in eradicating these diseases was still unclear to the community. The efforts in international collaborations need proper interpretation down to the grass roots. I will be here to do this and be happy to serve.