Asia Pacific countries mobilise to integrate TB and COVID-19 responses
In 2019, more than 6.8 million people in Asia Pacific region were infected with TB and more than 800,000 people died. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the disruption of TB services due to COVID-19 could result in 400,000 additional deaths in 2020 worldwide.
On the 3rd of December 2020, the Global TB Caucus held the first Asia Pacific Virtual TB Summit. The Summit brought together 14 Members of Parliament from 10 countries in the region to share best practices in addressing TB and COVID-19 in tandem, and to explore potential for regional collaboration. Virtual presentations were provided by WHO regional offices, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund), Stop TB Partnership (STBP), Asia Pacific Council of AIDS Service Organizations (APCASO) and Activists' Coalition on TB - Asia Pacific (ACT! AP).
“The COVID-19 pandemic shows us the critical social and economic impact of healthcare quality. Tuberculosis will be waiting for us after we are done fighting COVID-19, with a greater risk to society of an even higher burden than now,” says Hon. Kim Minseok - Chairperson of the Health and Welfare Committee, National Assembly of the Republic of Korea.
The Summit resulted in a regional joint statement to guide the ongoing political response of the Asia Pacific TB Caucus, including commitments to:
Achieve targets of the Political Declaration of the UN High Level Meeting on TB
Work with governments to protect adequate financing for the TB response
Call on governments to protect essential health services, including TB services
Call on governments to protect the supply chain of TB medicines to mitigate potential major shortages in the coming months
Convene stakeholders across multiple sectors to secure global access to medicines, vaccines, medical equipment, and to bolster research and development needed to combat all existing infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and TB, and mitigate future pandemics
Lead people-centered legislation protecting human rights in the COVID-19 response, including identifying language and policies with negative implications in the response to all infectious diseases
Solutions discussed included the need for close collaboration with civil society, community and technical partners, and support from sub-regional groups and organisations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Asia Pacific Parliamentarian Forum on Global Health (APPFGH) in order to ensure meaningful sustainable progress. The Global TB Caucus Secretariat will be tasked to ensure that commitments are translated into actions and outcomes at national and sub-regional levels.
The Asia Pacific TB Caucus encompasses 62 countries across Eastern, Western and Southern Asia, including the Pacific Islands. Characterised by vast cultural, linguistic, political and economic diversity, the region represents more than 60% of the world’s population and over 68% of the global TB burden. 11 of 48 High TB burden countries listed by WHO (China, India, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, DPR Korea, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Indonesia) lie within the region, accounting for over 6.9 million new infections each year - 64% of the global TB burden.