IFRC and the Global Fund target universal TB treatment in Niger: Vulnerable populations to benefit

06 February 2014 - Geneva - In a move designed to improve access to treatment for tuberculosis (TB) amongst hard to reach populations, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Global Fund have signed a grant agreement to fund universal treatment for TB in Niger, where more than two out of three people live on less than US $1 a day.

A new two-year Global Fund grant of 10 million euros will allow the population of Niger, estimated at around 17 million, to access quality TB diagnosis and treatment services. The Stop TB Partnership was part of the efforts in ensuring that this grant became a reality.

The grant will expand and enhance TB services for more than 26,000 people in 200 treatment centres by 2015, targeting vulnerable populations, including those in nomadic communities, migrant groups and prisons.

In Niger, while overall numbers of people with TB have fallen in recent years, incidence of the disease is still high. The vast majority of TB cases can be easily cured when medicines are provided and taken as prescribed.

"Access to sustainable diagnosis and treatment services is a burning priority in a country like Niger, where a lack of predictable funding, sustained technical support and health care workers have seriously undermined the government’s capacity to regularly provide quality TB services and distribute drugs" says Bekele Geleta, Secretary General, IFRC. "With support from the Global Fund, we will be able to ensure access to treatment for people living in the most underprivileged areas, especially those facing discrimination and living on the margins of society."

In Niger, despite a relatively high degree of political commitment and local ownership of the TB response, the disease is putting a heavy strain on an already overburdened health system. Treatment takes six months or more and requires extensive supervision and patient support by a health worker or trained volunteer. Without this, treatment adherence can be difficult and the disease can spread further.

"This grant will support and strengthen existing in-country capacities, working closely with the National Tuberculosis Program of the Ministry of Health" said Mark Dybul, Executive Director of the Global Fund. "The IFRC is an excellent partner combining a unique community perspective and experience that will accelerate scale-up of TB interventions and provide faster screening of at-risk populations."

The IFRC carries out its functions through a comprehensive country level structure, which works in close coordination with the National Tuberculosis Programme and other Sub-Recipients of the Global Fund grant, Dr Lasha Goguadze, Senior Health Officer, at IFRC said.

The IFRC in Niger has a well-established TB programme management system and logistical structure and experience. This will ensure the timely delivery of TB medicines and necessary diagnostic equipment to national health institutions, Dr Goguadze said.

IFRC has a comparative advantage of having the ability to bring TB treatment to those who need it most and those who cannot access the formal health system. Their coordination expertise brings together many country level players to meet the needs and improve the lives of vulnerable people.

In Niger, only 46 per cent of people with TB are ever tested for HIV. HIV and TB form a lethal combination, each speeding the other's progress. Someone who is infected with HIV and TB is much more likely to become sick with active TB. The grant will ensure that all TB patients will access HIV testing and early treatment services for TB and HIV.

"We believe that no one should be left behind in the fight against TB" said Geleta. "Equitable access to quality diagnosis and treatment services, combined with skilled community volunteers, is the winning formula to accelerate progress towards zero TB deaths, infections and suffering."

Recognizing the need to work with others to fight TB, the IFRC has established partnerships with many organizations locally and internationally (i.e. Damien Foundation, Stop TB Partnership, WHO and The Union, among others) to support the Niger National Tuberculosis Programme (NTP). It will support the NTP in effective implementation of a full scale national programme, applying the quality standards and strategic directions spelled out in the Stop TB Strategy.

Some of the challenges that IFRC will address locally will include: increased access to sustainable diagnosis and treatment services for high-risk populations; promoting a patient-centred approach and a stronger engagement of patients and communities; having a closer link with National HIV programme and strengthened management of HIV and TB co-infection; and expanding and enhancing activities to tackle Multi Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB).