The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic must not slow down or hamper global efforts to combat and ultimately defeat tuberculosis (TB). Rather, during its 35th meeting (19-20 May), the Stop TB Partnership Board called for an urgent enhancement of political commitment and funding to end TB by 2030.
At the meeting, Ministers and Deputy Ministers of Health from 12 countries, senior high-level government officials, donors, technical experts, and representatives of TB-affected communities, civil society, and multilateral agencies concluded that the world could end TB by 2030 with strong political will and proper funding despite the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the TB response, especially in high TB-burden countries.
The 35th Board Meeting was opened by H.E. Mansukh Mandaviya, Chair of the Stop TB Partnership Board and Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. In his opening remarks, H.E. Mansukh Mandaviya said: “Learning from the COVID-19 pandemic, India has taken several new initiatives in its programs, such as the ‘bidirectional testing’ of TB with COVID-19, house-to-house TB detection campaigns, rapid molecular diagnostics, use of artificial intelligence (AI) and digital tools, and decentralization of TB services.”
Using the opportunity created by the Board Meeting, representatives from Stop TB Partnership’s Community and NGO delegations met a day in advance to strategize on priorities, messages, and interventions to promote political will, investments, and TB responses that are community- and human rights-based. The delegations also discussed research literacy with the Stop TB Partnership New Tools Working Group.
The sidelines of the Board Meeting also saw the Stop TB Partnership launch, together with the Global Fund, the Digital TB Surveillance System Assessment Report, and the Words Matter language guide, a key instrument to promote the appropriate language to be used by all in order to encourage positive change. The second day of the Board Meeting started with a closed-door high-level round table on TB funding in Africa.
American Support for TB Efforts
In their keynote speeches, two top United States (US) officials reiterated the strong interest of the US in stepping up the global fight against TB. US Senator Timothy Kaine said lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic could help bolster the fight against TB, using digital technology and artificial intelligence, building up public health infrastructure, “and gaining international support for vaccine research and deployment.”
Dr. Atul Gawande, Assistant Administrator for Global Health, USAID, said that through the new Airborne Infection Defense Platform, “USAID will support up to US$10 million in programs to advance early detection and community response for COVID-19, TB, and other airborne diseases across Southeast Asia.” He also said that the pandemic and the war in Ukraine had set back regional and global TB efforts but said that these would ultimately not stop progress in ending TB. “We still can fight TB, and we still can end TB. We can free the poorest and most marginalized across the world from one of the oldest and deadliest diseases. We will not let COVID-19 and conflict fuel a global resurgence of this disease without fighting back. This is the time to reclaim and recover,” he said.
TB and the G20 Agenda
Discussions took place on the importance of the G20 for the TB response, as G20 countries represent 50% of all TB cases and 60% of the global burden of multi-drug resistant TB. The opportunities created by the Indonesian G20 presidency, followed in 2023 by India and 2024 by Brazil, will ensure financing to end TB remains on the group’s agenda. H.E. Mr. Budi Gunadi Sadikin, Minister of Health, Indonesia, underlined that his country’s G20 presidency supported more decisive action on TB. “As Indonesia holds the G20 presidency, our government endorses stronger international collaboration to support TB program recovery,” he said.
H.E. Mansukh Mandaviya, India's Minister of Health and Welfare and Chair of the Stop TB Partnership Board, made a great announcement for the TB response: “Under the India 2023 G20 presidency, we have decided to focus on two health issues; TB and cervical cancer.”
Arnaldo Correia Medeiros, Secretary of Health Surveillance in the Ministry of Health of Brazil and the chief of the Brazil delegation to the Board Meeting, said that his country will continue to support the fight against TB and underlined the need for TB to continuously remain on the G20 agenda in order to end TB by 2030.
The Board expressed concern that the global TB response will not be able to overcome the setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic or meet the 2022 United Nations High-Level Meeting (UNHLM) targets without additional financial support. High-level participants called on the Stop TB Partnership to continue to work with donors and partners to ensure that high TB burden countries remain ambitious and adequately resourced for a final push to achieve the 2022 UNHLM targets. The Board further endorsed the draft of the Global Plan to End TB 2023-2030 and requested the Stop TB Partnership to proceed with its launch, dissemination, and rollout.
Austin Obiefuna Arinze, Vice-Chair of the Stop TB Partnership and Executive Director of Afro Global Alliance, said the “devastating COVID-19 pandemic had caused a tragic loss of life, affecting billions of people, stopping economies in their track, and impacting so much of our existence. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a catastrophic impact on our personal lives and our fight against TB. At the same time, it became clear to everyone that TB hospitals, laboratories, doctors, nurses, and community workers involved in TB were the foundation of the COVID-19 response everywhere, so this is something we all must keep in mind."
The Board recognized that the Global Fund’s TB allocations and increased domestic funding are essential but not enough to meet TB resource needs. The Board went on to call upon new and existing donors to ensure that the Global Fund replenishment reaches the highest level to date, beyond US$18 billion.
Supporting People with TB in Conflict
The Board expressed its solidarity with all people affected by war and conflict and people affected by TB living in such dramatic circumstances. The Stop TB Partnership has supported Ukraine with a range of activities, including medical and diagnostics supplies, and rapidly repurposed Challenge Facility for Civil Society Ukraine grants to respond to emergency healthcare needs.
“As a result of the war…many people with TB in Ukraine discontinued their treatment or didn’t have access to TB care. The national TB program will make every effort to ensure that every Ukrainian with TB has the opportunity to be cured,” said Dr. Yana Terleeva, Head of the TB Department, Ministry of Health, Ukraine.
The Board had a chance to also interact with the Secretary of State in the Ministry of Health of Romania, Dr. Adriana Pistol, and the Deputy Minister of Health, Svetlana Nicolaescu of Moldova on securing care, diagnosis, and treatment for all people from Ukraine who have found refuge in these countries since the conflict began.
The two-day meeting, which was held in a hybrid format, was the first time in two years that Board members were able to physically meet. The meeting benefited from high participation and engagement of numerous members of civil society, communities, and TB survivors.
The Board welcomed and accepted the invitation of the Government of India to host the next Board Meeting in New Delhi in the first quarter of 2023.
Read the Stop TB Partnership Board Meeting Decision Points.