The unique international platform Global TB Caucus is a key partner of TB REP 2.0 in building dialogue at the parliamentary level in the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia in the context of developing sustainable anti-TB programs and introducing effective innovative TB treatment methods in countries.
During the quarantine period in April-May 2020 caused by the #COVID19 pandemic, the TB Caucus team initiated and implemented a series of online national dialogues with parliamentarians from Ukraine, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, as well as a regional dialogue between leaders of national groups of EECA region countries.
«During the discussion with parliamentarians, important relevant information was received from civil society organizations, WHO country representatives, in some cases, WHO regional representatives, National Tuberculosis Programs managers, regarding statistics on COVID-19 and it’s possible impact on the treatment of TB patients in the future. To discuss the continuity of treatment, WHO representatives asked for a dedicated video conference, and all participants in all countries confirmed the relevance and need for this,” said Alesya Matusevich, EECA Regional Manager at TB Caucus.– Also, parliamentarians agreed to ensure the allocation of a budget for TB treatment and the need for restrictions on redistributing this budget for COVID issues, and of coordinated use of GeneXpertmachines so that this does not affect the detection of TB cases. In this context, they discussed the logistics of sputum transport for the detection of TB and its use for the purposes of COVID-19. All participants confirmed their commitment to the targets agreed in the Political Declaration of the UN High-Level Meeting on TB”.
One of the most important tasks of these online meetings was to establish partnerships with parliamentarians in the context of overcoming the barriers that have arisen in countries under the influence of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as establishing further joint steps for cooperation in the framework of the new on-line platform to achieve quick and timely results on protection of the rights of TB patients under COVID-19 conditions. It is important to note that stakeholders decided to continue such online meetings on a regular basis.
Thus, on May 29, 2020, a regional online meeting of the Executive Committee of the Global TB Caucus took place, which was represented by parliamentarians from different regions of the world, at which a discussion was held on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on especially dangerous infectious diseases such as tuberculosis (TB).
The meeting discussed the importance of bridging political and geographic differences in building commitment in member countries and beyond to ensure a coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the dialogue, the participants clearly emphasized the threat that the COVID-19 pandemic poses to the health and well-being of people around the world, including major changes in our society and economy, as well as a sudden change in the priorities of other health services. As for tuberculosis, this means that global morbidity and mortality will increase rapidly, which could lead to the disease in about 6 million more people, 1.4 million of which are likely to die. Obviously, the poor are the most vulnerable.
There is good reason to believe that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will have unprecedented consequences for the tuberculosis epidemic, hindering progress towards the achievement of vital goals for at least the period of 5-8 years that were adopted in the Political Declaration of the UN High-level Meeting on Tuberculosis.
Global TB Caucus leaders noted the importance of leveraging the experience of the last five years from political advocacy efforts in the fight against tuberculosis to urge EECA governments to take control of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the Committee's recommendations to all members of the Global TB Caucus, the following were noted:
• Maintain the commitment to the goals agreed upon in the Political Declaration of the UN High-level Meeting on Tuberculosis, as now more than ever, it is necessary to strengthen international relations and work together to achieve a sustainable and even more effective response to tuberculosis.
• It is important to work with EECA governments to provide adequate funding to protect the progress made in the fight against tuberculosis at the national, regional and global levels. Governments will provide funding to respond to the fight against COVID-19 and it is imperative that this does not come from funding that is already earmarked for tuberculosis, HIV and malaria. Countries need new investments, not just redesigning existing commitments.
• It is imperative to maintain even closer collaboration with the World Health Organization.
• There is an urgent need to resume the provision of essential healthcare services in the countries of the EECA region, including planned TB programs, even under quarantine measures or restrictions. It is critical that governments pay attention to this. It is also necessary to urge governments to resume production of essential anti-TB drugs in order to avoid a significant shortage of drugs in the coming months.
• Develop new legislation in response to COVID-19 taking into account the patient-centered approach and avoid language and political disagreements that could have long-term negative consequences for responding to other infectious diseases; protect and respect the rights of people directly or indirectly affected by the pandemic, especially those who are most vulnerable, without any discrimination.
Following the discussion, a resolution will be adopted by the regional heads of the Global TB Caucus, on the basis of which the National Heads will develop country plans adapted to the national specifics and advocacy at the level of their countries.