South East Asian countries: Amazing political commitment to End TB in spite of large populations, big TB burden and several challenges

17 March 2017 - New Delhi - India - Ministers and Deputy Ministers of Health as well as heads of communicable diseases departments and TB programme managers from all 11 member states of WHO South East Asia Regional Office (Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor-Leste) yesterday signed a Call for Action for Ending TB, in which they committed to accelerate and focus action in order to end TB by 2030. This unprecedented historical moment was part of a two day event driven by the vision of Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director for WHO South-East Asia (SEARO), and organized and led by the team of Dr Swarup Kumar Sarkar, Director of the Department of Communicable Diseases for WHO SEARO.

Ministers from nine countries and the other heads of delegation as well as many technical partner representatives were presented the results of a regional and country by country modelling effort done by a team led by Professor Nim Pathy from Imperial College London that outlined the level of effort, packages of care and the level of investment needed to ensure that we can bend the TB curve.

The meeting was chaired by his Excellency J.P. Nadda, Minister of Health and Family Welfare of India, and his Excellency Dr Rajitha Senaratne, Minister of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine for Sri Lanka. The Ministers committed to: 1) leading the implementation of the national TB responses in the countries -- specifically the high-burden countries -- by an empowered national initiative that reports to the highest levels of government in the Member States; 2) increasing budgetary and human resource allocations by Governments as well as by their global, domestic and other partners so as to ensure that national TB plans that are evidence-informed, fully funded, rationally and effectively used, avoiding wastages; 3) enabling using innovative communications, the engagement and literacy of communities and individuals with TB and providing the best possible care to each and every person; and 4) supplementing medical care for TB with patient-centred, community-empowering, necessary social and financial protection in a holistic manner through collaboration across and beyond the health sector in every country of the region.

Dr. Mark Dybul, the Executive Director of the Global Fund, Dr. Tim Evans the Senior Director of Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank, Dr. Kitty van Weezenbeek. Executive Director of KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation, Dr. Pradeep Kakkattil and Alasdair Reed from UNAIDS, Dr. Jamie Tonsing, Director of the The Union South-East Asia, USAID, DFAT and DFID were among those present who gave statements of support.

"Many of us have dedicated decades to public health. Decades in which we’ve seen several big breakthroughs in our field; breakthroughs that benefited millions of children and adults alike. But if we can look back a decade from now and see that we helped bring TB to an end it will be an achievement of immense pride. By meeting the Region’s End TB goals we will have prevented nearly 9 million deaths and more than 50 million infections. We have the power to make this happen," said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director for SEARO.

Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership said, "I am usually skeptical of declarations and commitments. However, this time I feel that it is different. First, because of WHO Regional Director Poonam Singh and her desire to drive change and save lives in the region. We discussed about this movement only few months ago and now it became a reality. Secondly, because these commitments are constructed on solid data and very good and forward looking modelling country by country. Third - because first time in the region, ministers of health participated for 2 days, discussed and debated how to move towards ending TB. So, I am optimistic that we will see a change and accelerated movement in the region!"

Health Minister J.P. Nadda, of the host country declared, "India will accelerate efforts and we plan to end TB by 2025. We launched yesterday the National Health Policy Act and ending TB by 2025 is part of it. We have a new National Strategic Programme for 2017-2025, costed, ambitious and we are committed to implement it."

"We are very happy to see communities, civil society and people affected by TB involved in the process. We commit to fight together to end TB in the region but we want to help with the right system to ensure monitoring of the commitments and their implementation. It is time for everyone to understand that only through proper engagement of people affected by TB will we end this disease," said Blessina Kumar, CEO (I), Global Coalition of TB Activists.

"I firmly believe that tuberculosis is preventable and treatable. It needs commitment, determination and solidarity... let’s make a pledge to work together towards the end." - Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister, Bangladesh

"The tuberculosis trend in Bhutan has been progressively declining but it is still a priority public health problem, mostly affecting the productive age group of 15-44 years. I call upon all citizens of the country to unite with the health sector in combating TB. I would like to call upon each individual, family, and community to take ownership and participate in the fight against TB. I believe that through shared responsibility we can end TB." - Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk, Minister of Health, Bhutan

"Maldives will continue the commitment to protect its community from TB. We will leave a TB-Free Maldives to the next generation." - Abdulla Nazim Ibrahim, Minister of Health, Maldives

"I fully support the National Tuberculosis Programme. As the NTP programme manager and Deputy Director-General (Disease Control) have suggested, I will take immediate action to address this important issue." - Dr Myint Htwe, Minister of Health and Sports, Myanmar

"The Government of Nepal highly prioritizes the response to tuberculosis and is committed to reduce the people’s suffering from this preventable and treatable illness. We have adopted the End TB Strategy to eliminate tuberculosis from Nepal by 2035." - Gagan Kumar Thapa, Minister of Health, Nepal

"Sri Lanka has enjoyed free universal health care for almost seven decades. In spite of this, and the significant progress we have made in health care delivery to our people, we are yet to fully control TB in our country. Our aim is virtual elimination of TB, the way we have achieved success with malaria and polio. Since it has been proven that the disease is treatable and preventable, we hope to use modern medical know-how and expertise to achieve this goal and accelerate our efforts towards ending TB." - Dr Rajitha Senaratne, Minister of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine, Sri Lanka

"Top political commitment is needed to turn the serious TB epidemic. Thailand is proud to be one of the first supporters of the UN High-Level meeting on TB. The meeting will ensure a historic tipping point in the fight against the world’s leading infectious killer. Together, we can tip the situation." - Dr Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, Minister of Public Health, Thailand