APPG Marks World TB Day with Virtual Briefing
On 23 March 2021, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global TB hosted a virtual briefing to mark World TB Day. Joined by esteemed speakers, the event shed a light on the impact of COVID-19 on the fight against TB, and lessons learned over the last year that could shape global efforts to "build back better".
The event was opened by the APPG's Co-Chair, Virendra Sharma MP, who welcomed over 70 participants to the discussion. He emphasised how the need to leave no one behind in the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goal had been drawn into greater focus by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is having the greatest impact on the most vulnerable and marginalised.
Wendy Morton MP, Minister of State for the European Neighbourhood and the Americas, sent a video message in which she expressed the UK's continued commitment to tackling TB and described ongoing efforts to partner with high-burden countries, researchers and the Global Fund to improve access to TB diagnosis and treatment globally. Her video message can be viewed below.
Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, spoke about the enormous impact of COVID-19 on TB case-finding globally. He noted that the political will and resources mobilised in response to COVID-19 stood in stark contrast to TB, where data on cases, deaths and hotspots lagged many months behind COVID-19's real-time data. Sands described the Global Fund's efforts throughout 2020 to enable countries to respond to COVID-19 and mitigate its secondary impacts on key HIV, TB and malaria programmes, but how funding for these efforts had run out last autumn. While the US Government's recent commitment of US$3.5 billion will enable the Global Fund to restart this work, demand for funding will far exceed this level. In this context, Mr Sands thanked members of the APPG for their continued efforts to ensure the UK's existing commitments to the Global Fund were disbursed in full and for championing the Global Fund more broadly.
Dr Sanjay Sarin from the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics described key lessons over the course of the pandemic, and the major advancements that could be achieved in the fight against TB if key COVID-19 innovations were leveraged in efforts to "build back better". Building on dramatic expansions in global diagnostic capacity, increasingly decentralised sample collection, increased collaboration between public and private sectors, and new technologies such as self-test kits and online platforms for contact tracing could prove transformative in the TB response. Crucially, leveraging these innovations for maximum effect will require ambition, collaboration and financing.
The final speaker at this year's World TB Day briefing was Nandita Venkatesan, an MDR-TB survivor, journalist and current Chevening scholar at the University of Oxford. Ms Venkatesan described her own arduous battle with TB, which saw her hospitalised for much of her early twenties and led to her losing her hearing. She described her alarm at newly published data from WHO suggesting an additional 1.4 million people with TB missed out on diagnosis and treatment due to the pandemic, noting that such statistics masked the realities of people turned away from healthcare facilities and unable to access nutritious food to enable them to complete treatment. She closed by asking the UK government to reconsider its decision to reduce the UK aid budget, noting that now was the time to increase investments in global health and not to step back from the fight against TB.
Following a lively Q&A session, Lord Herbert of South Downs concluded the event with some final remarks. He described the APPG's continued efforts to ensure critical TB research and investments in the Global Fund were protected from the cuts proposed to the UK's aid budget, but noted that the Group had not yet received any reassurance from the Government. Noting the reduced bandwidth of decision makers to focus on issues other than COVID-19 and immense pressures on the public purse, Lord Herbert closed by calling on stakeholders including civil society and the scientific community, to work together and make the case for increased investment and political will to end TB.
For full minutes of the event, please email firstname.lastname@example.org