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Jorge Sampaio on Stopping Tuberculosis and the Alliance of Civilizations

Jorge Sampaio, the former President of Portugal, currently serves in two important United Nations capacities. He is the Secretary General’s Special Envoy to Stop Tuberculosis and is also the High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations.

Tuberculosis is a curable disease, but it kills 4,300 people each day. A global pandemic, TB has been designated by the World Health Organization as one of the most lethal diseases after HIV/AIDS, and it is the biggest killer of those living with HIV/AIDS. Nonetheless, Jorge Sampaio says, TB is not much talked about. Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, Mr. Sampaio says that in the United States about 2 out every 100,000 people have TB, but in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and China, there are hundreds. Unfortunately, he says, there are new and more “dangerous strains” of TB appearing – for example, multi-drug-resistant TB and XDR, or extensively drug-resistant TB. Over the past decade, 26 million people with TB have been treated, but there are several million new patients each year. Mr. Sampaio says the most important thing is early diagnosis. He notes that the U.S. Congress is currently debating the increase of appropriations for TB, which he calls a “major breakthrough.”

Regarding his work as U.N. High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, it is focused on combating intolerance and promoting greater understanding in an increasingly globalized and polarized world. Mr. Sampaio says the initiative was co-sponsored by the prime ministers of Turkey and Spain, and 70 countries are now members. He notes that there are “dangerous symptoms of the possibility of clashes” - in culture, politics, and religion. And every society has discrimination. So it is important, he says, to concentrate on reaching people through the media, through education. Jorge Sampaio says the Alliance for Civilizations is also beginning to cooperate with organizations such as UNESCO and the Council of Europe on their existing projects. In addition, the Alliance has developed a data bank of successful projects related to interfaith and intercultural dialogue as well as a “network” of people who share what he calls a “tolerant vision.” Mr. Sampaio says there will be an international forum held in Madrid in January, which will have a youth component, and there will also be a youth festival held in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.

One of today’s special challenges is to galvanize collective action across diverse societies to combat extremism and to overcome some of the cultural barriers that have arisen between the West and the Muslim world in particular. For example, Mr. Sampaio says, he recently attended a conference sponsored by the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) in Cordoba, Spain, that was dedicated to the problem of “Islamophobia.” Jorge Sampaio emphasizes that it is important to admit the problems that exist in one’s own society. On the other hand, he says, there are “moderates everywhere,” and they should be brought into the dialogue. Although the United States is not yet a member of the Alliance for Civilizations, Mr. Sampaio says he is certainly “not pessimistic about it” in the long term.

A lawyer by training, Mr. Sampaio often defended political prisoners, and he is a lifelong member of the Socialist Party. He was elected President of Portugal in 1995 and served two 5-year terms. During that period, he contributed to numerous international causes, including HIV-AIDS.

For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.