Global TB Caucus Country Spotlight: Republic of Korea launches National TB Caucus
20 July 2018, Seoul
Hon Myunyeon Kim MP, chairman of the Cooperation Committee in Stop TB Partnership KOREA and Stop TB Partnership KOREA (STBK) together hosted an international forum entitled “Political Actions in the Global Fight to End TB” at the National Assembly Building of Republic of Korea in Seoul on 20 July 2018. This forum was organized to pave the way for the creation of Korea TB Caucus (KTBC) by raising awareness on global TB among Korean MPs, the potential members of the caucus, and inspiring them to join forces with the global community to end TB. With the UN High-Level Meeting (HLM) on TB approaching fast, this forum will galvanize MPs and high-level government officials to take actions in their positions to support the ongoing fight against global TB.
The forum began with a congratulatory video from Hon Keizo Takemi MP and Hon Takagai MP, Chair and Vice Chair of the Japanese Parliamentary Caucus. They emphasized the importance of engagement and support from the government and members of parliament to eradicate TB globally. The half-day meeting took participants through an overview of the global TB epidemic (highlighting the UN HLM this year) and introduced the Global TB Caucus. Hon Shanahan provided an overview of Canada’s contribution to the Global TB response and shared her experience as a chair of her National TB Caucus. A panel discussion, with representatives from international CSOs and TB experts, on the role and aim of political actions of Korean MPs to end the global TB epidemic brought the meeting to a close.
Over the past year, the Republic of Korea has emerged as a significant donor in the Asia Pacific region. In 2013, the Ministry of Health contributed $6 million to the Global Fund for 2014-2016, and the foreign ministry contributed $10 million in five annual instalments from 2013-2017, drawn from a levy on all passengers leaving South Korea on international flights. The 1,000 won ($0.95) levy, known as the "Global Poverty Eradication Tax", was introduced in 2007, primarily to contribute financial resources to fight poverty and disease. As the 11st largest economy in the world, Korea has the potential to boost its ODA, especially focusing on health.
The country has come a long way in the fight against TB over the past half-century. After the Korean War, which ended in 1953, it was estimated that nearly 6.5% of South Korea’s population had active TB. In 1962, the government of South Korea adopted and implemented the National Tuberculosis Program in 1962. In the subsequent years, up to 1995, the prevalence of TB in South Korea decreased from 940 to 219 cases per 100,000 population. Rapid economic growth during this period might have been a contributing factor to this steady decline. But despite these significant advances in disease control, TB incidence in South Korea remains the highest among the 34 OECD countries, according to the WHO.
In 2016, approximately 9,200 people were diagnosed with TB in the United States, while there were an estimated 39,000 people infected with TB in South Korea in the same year. The high prevalence could be attributed to a few different under-lying factors including an increasing population with diabetes, high smoking rates and a high prevalence rate of latent TB among the elderly.
In order to address the existing challenges posed by TB, the Korean Centre for Disease Control developed the New 2020 Plan. This plan aims to reduce the rate of incidence by half between 2011 and 2020, aiming to bring the rate down to below 50 per 100,000. In line with this, in 2011, the South Korea Ministry of Health quadrupled their annual budget for the TB program.
The New 2020 Plan uses Private-Public Mix (PPM) collaboration and the reinforcement of outbreak investigation. The model involves close monitoring of those infected, contact tracing, and financial support for people with multi-drug resistant TB.
Over the coming decade, several nations, particularly in the Asia-Pacific, will begin to move away from relying on foreign contributions to address domestic challenges in managing TB. The precedent set by the Republic of Korea will, no doubt, inform the path they chose and the decisions they make along the way.
Currently, a total of 27 MPs from across parties have come other to establish Korea TB Caucus. The Caucus and its members will interact and cooperate with members of other national TB caucuses to seek ways to expand Korea’s role in the global fight against TB.
With the launch of a KTBC, Korea is substantiating its political will in the fight against TB, both nationally, as well as globally. As a country that must simultaneously address the epidemic domestically and regionally, they have the opportunity to set a unique example.