Tuberculosis (TB) still kills around 1.4 million people each year, with one third of the world population being infected without necessarily ever falling ill. Some 13 per cent of TB patients are also co-infected with HIV. In an event organized by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) at the the 31st International Conference, National Societies and partners from the World Health Organisation (WHO), Stop TB partnership, Elli Lilly, and others others came together to point out that all TB affected countries should increase efforts to reach out to patients and promote the human rights-based approach to dealing with the TB challenge.
“Although there has been significant progress in tackling TB, the sad reality is that three million patients are still undetected simply because they are left out of the health system radar,” said Ms Lucica Ditiu, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB partnership. “We must do more to ensure faster case detection and screening of at risk populations, and this is where the Red Cross Red Crescent could still make a difference.”
Panelists suggested that there is an urgent need to empower individuals and communities by addressing the socioeconomic and other determinants that can allow the disease to spread. All countries should expand access to quality TB prevention, care and support as well as creating an enabling legal and policy environment. Gerry Elsdon, Global TB Goodwill Ambassador for the IFRC, said: “The IFRC, ICRC and National Societies should turn their volunteerism into activism as far as fighting TB is concerned.”
The President of the Kazakhstan Red Crescent, Erkebek Argymbaev also stressed that the volunteers’ network, all over the world, should serve to promote behavior change among TB patients to ensure treatment is followed correctly and completed. “There should also be an integrated health care as far as TB and HIV are concerned because the two diseases are closely linked”, he said.
In addressing migrants needs, many voices have pledged to support diagnosis and treatment regardless of the patient’s origin, religion or any other kind of bias. “Let’s break barriers and transfer technology and expertise to one another to reduce the TB spread and deaths”, said Fiona Setchell, project manager at Eli Lilly&Co. She also noted that the involvement of all stakeholders, including governments, WHO, private sector, civil society and media is essential for success. In all this, she said, the Red Cross Red Crescent can take the lead. As a matter of fact, all National Societies have to ensure that tuberculosis is part of their health plans. However, it has to be done in line with respective national TB plans.
Mr S. P. Agarwal, Secretary General of the Indian Red Cross Society said: “Women with TB are shunned from society. What we do through our volunteer network is to fight stigma and discrimination so that TB patients are not treated as pariahs.”
As the fight against TB requires a significant investment in logistics - be it drugs, food or other means - participants suggested that there should be a dedicated effort to raise funds. This can be done both at national and international levels.