13 April 2017, New Delhi, India - REACH in response to demand from communities and with the support of Stop TB Partnership and USAID hosted a workshop for TB Champions from the Southeast Asia region to extend peoples’ knowledge on TB and deepen their communication and advocacy skills so that they can meaningfully engage in the TB response to move towards a people-centered approach.
The workshop brought together 30 people from 6 countries who shared personal experiences on TB, documented the societal and systemic barriers they faced, transformed the barriers they faced into concrete advocacy goals and strategies and discussed the power of collective community-driven advocacy to change the status quo in TB.
South and Southeast Asia bear almost half the world’s TB burden, with close to half a million annual deaths due to TB. There are numerous challenges in the region, including a growing MDR-TB epidemic, feeble public and private sector infrastructure, overwhelming stigma and a lack of social protection measures to support people with and vulnerable to TB.
Dr Nalini Krishnan, Director, REACH, Ms Sarah Rugnetta, Programme and Policy Advisor, USAID and Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director, Stop TB Partnership welcomed participants and opened the workshop with strong messages on the importance of putting people at the center of the response. The workshop put a strong emphasis on participatory and mutual learning and was facilitated primarily by Ms. Blessina Kumar, Community TB Activist and Anupama Srinivasan, REACH.
"Unless we get inputs from the community we cannot have successful programs. We need to get the voices of people who have been affected out into the public sphere," said Dr. Nalini. "For years and years we’ve been trying to battle TB in the region but with very dismal results. One reason for this is that we have always had a very clinical and medical approach to managing TB. By listening and understanding what people go through and the barriers they face we will quickly understand that the problem of TB goes way beyond a clinical diagnosis."
"USAID is proud to support this workshop, which helps TB survivors to become powerful agents of change in India and other regional countries. It is critical that we actively engage TB champions in designing and implementing programs and advocating for policy change. Their experiences can guide the way forward as we move toward a TB-free India and world," said Xerses Sidhwa, Director of Health at USAID/India.
"TB engagement is seen as one of the biggest missing links in the TB response. Surprisingly people say that people with TB don’t want to talk about it but what we’ve experienced in this workshop is that people with TB want to belong, connect and engage. So when we talk about meaningfully engaging with the community we must understand that it is not something that is automatically going to happen. It needs to be deliberate, an intentional activity that we push for," said Blessina Kumar, a message that was reiterated throughout the workshop.
"You cannot have an effective health intervention program without engaging communities," said Mr Dean Lewis, TB activist.
"This workshop has given me even more confidence to continue my work as an advocate in the Philippines and to share what I’ve learned with fellow advocates back home. Connecting with other survivors from the region has made my will to engage in TB even stronger," said Ms Maricel Rovillos Buen, TB activist and member of SLBAI, patient support group, Philippines.
"If we are serious about ending TB, engaging those who have experienced TB first hand in a meaningful way is critical" said Dr. Lucica Ditiu. "The Stop TB Partnership is therefore delighted to partner with REACH to support the desire of TB Champions from the South East Asia region to further build their skills to become even more powerful TB advocates and we look forward to continuing our collaborations with other community and civil society partners in the region such as the newly established Asia-Pacific Activists’ Coalition on TB (ACT Asia Pacific) and the Global Coalition of TB Activists (GCTA)".
Throughout 2017, the Stop TB Partnership will be supporting a series of regional workshops to convene people with first-hand experience of TB and to enhance their advocacy skills to raise their voices as a very much needed collective force in the TB response.