New Delhi: In recognition of his outstanding contribution to the movement to eradicate Tuberculosis (TB) from India by 2025, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare has been appointed Chairman of theStop TB Partnership Board.
The Stop TB Partnership is a unique international body with the power to align actors all over the world in the fight against TB. The participation of a wide range of constituencies gives this global body the credibility and the broad range of medical, social and financial expertise needed to defeat TB. The Partnership’s vision is a TB-free world. The appointment of Dr Harsh Vardhan as the Chair of this prestigious global body is a proud recognition of India’s political commitment to eradication of TB. TheUnion Health Minister willhence serve a three year term,commencing July 2021, as the Chair of the Board of Stop TB Partnership.
Established in the year 2000, the ‘Stop TB Partnership’ is mandated to eliminate Tuberculosis as a public health problem. The organization was conceived following the meeting of the First Session of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Tuberculosis Epidemic held in London in March 1998. In its inaugural year itself, the Stop TB Partnership through the Amsterdam Declaration gave a call for collaborative action from ministerial delegations from 20 countries that bear the highest burden of TB. It has 1500 partner organizations which include international, non-governmental and governmental organizations and patient groups. The Secretariat is based at Geneva, Switzerland.
Dr. Harsh Vardhan addressing the 33rd Board Meeting of Stop TB, November, 2020
India has committed to eliminating TB in the country by 2025, five years ahead of the global deadline of 2030. The Government of India’s National Strategic Plan for TB Elimination 2017-2025 outlines an ambitious agenda and targets which exceed even the aspirational ones set by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) End TB Strategy for the world.This has attracted the attention of members of the organization who want to learn and benefit from the medical advancements and practices to eliminate the disease as is being implemented through a National Strategic Plan in India.
With a recovery rate of about 97% and mortality rate less than 2%, India is also one of the few countries that have successfully contained COVID19. The pandemic has renewed the focus on airborne communicable diseases in India, with heavy investment now being prioritized for public health care.
Dr. Harsh Vardhan has been a vocal proponent of repurposing the COVID19 containment infrastructure and use the lessons learned from COVID19 in elimination of TB in a big way:
Several dedicated Infectious Disease Hospitals have come up as a part of the pandemic response measures which would contribute in a major way towards TB care and management.
The molecular diagnostic capacity of the country has increased multi-fold. These multi-platform devices based on cartridge and chip-based technology can decentralize TB diagnosis.
Behavioural changes acquired during the pandemic, such as cough hygiene, use of masks, physical distancing which helped reduce the transmission ofother respiratory diseases, be used in generating awareness against Tuberculosis as well.
The increased uptake of telemedicine and teleconsultation during the pandemic will also provide channels of consultation for tuberculosis.
The Union Minister Dr Vardhanhas been a strong votary of turning the fight against TB into a Jan Andolan, a people’s movement. He has urged all stakeholders to come together to devise an effective communication strategy which would focus on reaching the maximum population; complement with preventive, diagnostic and curative aspects of TB management; work towards demand generation; ensuring regular high visibility mass-media coverage; and also focus on community ownership and mobilization.
In September 2019, Dr. Harsh Vardhan,had launched a new and aggressive ‘TB HaregaDeshJeetega’ Campaign, along with the National TB Prevalence Survey. Since then, multi-stakeholder and community participation has formed the pivot of the countrywide campaign. Patient forums have been established in over 95 per cent of all districts within the first 100 days of the launch of the campaign, which clearly shows his strong commitment to ending TB in the shortest possible time.
Acutely aware that the COVID pandemic has set the clock back by many years through treatment interruptions, hindered availability of drugs, shrinking supply of diagnostic tests, delays in diagnosis, interrupted supply chains, diversion of manufacturing capacity and imposition of physical barriers for patients who had to travel to distant clinics to pick up the medications, the Union Health Minister has been holding High-level meetings every month to maintain steady focus at all levels of the government in scaling back lost ground.
In this regard, the Union Health Ministry has taken steps like recommendation of bi-directional TB-COVID screening, screening among ILI and SARI cases, intensifying of private sector engagement, re-deployment of the repurposed HR and CBNAAT and TrueNaT machines back to the TB program.