In order to honor World TB Day, which is commemorated annually on March 24, the Alliance for Public Health is calling upon MPs, government officials, public authorities, doctors, scientists, international partners, and civil society to pay particular attention to people affected by tuberculosis (TB) against the backdrop of the spreading COVID-19 pandemic. Time is running out is the slogan that has brought together organizations and activists this year in an effort to focus attention on the commitments made by countries to eliminate TB.
“Do we allow the possibility that the situation with COVID-19 may be here to stay or even get worse over the next 10-20 years? No! The entire world has mobilized to make sure the answer here is a resounding ‘No’! And what about TB? The COVID-19 pandemic has taught humanity how to take concerted action, and we see and know what works and what does not. We need the prioritized policies, the resources, modern treatments, a focus on human needs, and the effective engagement of communities and civil society. Let’s not settle for half measures every year!” points out Andriy Klepikov, the Executive Director of the Alliance for Public Health.
During this past year of living with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed unprecedented safety and security measures, as well as quarantine restrictions imposed by Ukraine and other countries. We had to find modern and effective approaches to doing our work in the new conditions, which have already demonstrated their efficacy. These include active TB case finding among new vulnerable populations, the widespread introduction of video directly observed therapy for TB patients, and strengthening patient support to maintain adherence to treatment.
Civil society, which has traditionally played a key role in combating TB and has been actively involved throughout the process of TB service delivery, has become a link between the health care system and people affected by TB under COVID-19-related quarantine restrictions. During this difficult period, civil society proved to be a cornerstone of TB diagnosis and continuing care.
Thus, the efforts of the Alliance and its partner organizations have made it possible to maintain the effectiveness of TB treatment at the pre-pandemic level. A sufficient amount of anti-tuberculosis drugs was purchased and delivered to patients. Additionally, at the request of the representatives of the regional TB service, necessary medical equipment was purchased; medical and social workers were provided with personal protective equipment; partners in the regions provided with SARS-CoV-2 antigen rapid test kits.
To facilitate successful treatment outcomes, patients were linked to medical and psycho-social support in 8 regions. This strategy led to TB recovery rates being 91.3% for patients with drug-susceptible TB and 82.4% for patients with drug-resistant TB.
In addition, the Alliance and its partner NGOs continued with their active efforts to identify TB cases among vulnerable populations through screening surveys for TB-like symptoms and using a results-based funding approach. Thus, in 24 regions, nearly 104,000 people from most-at-risk groups were screened, of which more than 97% with a positive screening result were linked to diagnostic services.
A new grant from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for 2021-2023 provides for the expanded scope of activities intended to detect new TB cases among most-at-risk groups, including children and residents of areas along the demarcation line in the government-controlled areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Efforts to support the mental health of people with TB are also underway to help them successfully complete treatment. In a bid for further improving patient rights, a gender-sensitive algorithm is currently being developed for healthcare professionals to counsel TB patients and strengthen patient rights protection in collaboration with TBPeople Ukraine, a charitable organization of TB patients.
The Alliance is continuing its policy-making activity and efforts towards advancing TB political commitments. Thus, on March 17, 2021, at the initiative of the inter-factional parliamentary group called The Parliamentary Platform To Fight TB, which is supported by the Alliance, the Committee hearings on measures for combating TB during the pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus were organized and held. However, in order to contain the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the TB sector, multiple pressing issues need to be addressed as soon as possible. Thus, given the overall decrease in the number of TB cases identified over the last year, which is likely to lead to a spike in the number of complicated cases and an increase in TB-related deaths in the near future, we would like to stress the need for more attention and vigilance on the part of healthcare workers towards TB signs and symptoms. Among the issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible is the development and approval of a plan for the transition from donor to public funding.
We hope that next year these and other challenges will be overcome through our joint efforts.
The Alliance, as always, is ready for undertaking large-scale and decisive action in the fight against TB, and we feel deeply grateful to our partners and donors, civil society and key communities, professional and governmental organizations for the fruitful cooperation in overcoming the TB epidemic in Ukraine!
National TB Hotline: 0800503080