By Dr. Poonam
TB remains a serious problem across the WHO South-East Asia Region, and requires the fullest attention and strongest commitment of governments, donors and civil society leaders to be effectively addressed.
As outlined in WHO’s new global report on TB, a number of countries in the Region are among the world’s highest TB burden countries, while revised estimates based on increased case-reporting and enhanced surveillance show that the TB caseload is higher than previously projected. TB is the single largest cause of death of any infectious disease in the Region, and remains responsible for incalculable suffering, premature mortality, impoverishment and foregone development.
To get on track to achieve the SDG 2030 target and Global End TB Strategy targets by 2035, which includes reducing TB deaths by 95% and cutting new cases by 90%, countries across the Region must significantly scale up key interventions made in recent years.
Though countries have been making efforts to end TB and the number of TB deaths and TB incidence rate continues to fall, at the current trend the Region would not be able to achieve the SDG targets. A newer and bolder approach is needed to bend the curve faster and sharper to achieve the global targets.
This means intensifying measures to ensure early diagnosis and treatment, such as active case-finding and enhancing access to cutting-edge diagnostic tools. Adopting newer approaches of case diagnosis, community based treatment and treatment of latent infection. It means integrating TB programmes with existing health systems, thereby amplifying the effect these interventions have. And it also means ensuring these and other interventions meet the needs of vulnerable and marginalised populations, who continue to disproportionately suffer from the disease.
To make this happen, funds must be allocated accordingly, while political commitment must be fortified. Both must occur at national and international levels. Moreover, governments should provide national TB programmes the operating capacity to be agile and responsive in their efforts, while TB control leaders should adapt and apply global TB strategies with care and diligence.
The battle to achieve a Region free of TB with zero death, disease and suffering is both possible and necessary. We can and must make it happen.
(The writer is WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia.)
(WHO’s South-East Asia Region comprises the following 11 Member States: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.)