ASEAN Cohesively Respond to TB amidst COVID-19 Pandemic
On 12 October 2020, Ministry of Health Malaysia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretariat conducted a video conference on tuberculosis (TB) entitled “Towards comprehensive TB/MDR TB care, treatment and control response”. In attendance were National TB Program Managers from 9 of 10 ASEAN Member States (AMS), representatives from World Health Organization Western Pacific Region (WHO WPRO) and South-East Asia Region (WHO SEARO), and the Asia Pacific Secretariat of Global TB Caucus Secretariat.
Discussions were focused on the TB burden in AMS as well as challenges and solutions in the prevention and control of TB, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the Ministry of Health Malaysia proposed a newly developed mechanism for TB referral among AMS through International Tuberculosis Notification and Referral System (ITRAM).
Dr Thilaka Chinnayah from MoH Malaysia highlighted the importance of a unified approach in ASEAN to the TB response, as 6 of the 10 AMS are listed as WHO High TB Burden countries (Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam), and reconfirmed Malaysia’s commitment to national and regional action. H.E. Kung Phoak, Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, also emphasized the need for national and regional coordination of the response to TB as one of the 5 key diseases prioritised by ASEAN. The conference was continued by presentations from NTP Managers from each ASM, WHO WPRO, WHO SEARO, Global TB Caucus Secretariat and discussion on ITRAM.
Highlighting the importance of strong coordination between Parliamentarians and National TB Programmes, Ganendra Kristandya of the Global TB Caucus Secretariat presented additional approaches to narrowing of the gap between policy and implementation, including the establishment of an ASEAN TB Caucus as a platform to unite elected representatives from across the AMS and strengthen the regional TB response.
Upcoming developments discussed include presentation of the draft guideline on ITRAM to Senior Officials for Health Development (SOMHD) for advancement. The Proposal of activities and developments resulting from the conference to ASEAN Health Cluster 2 will be led by Malaysia for inclusion in the 2021 - 2025 work programme.