Ms Inga Bulotiene, Chair of Saules Smiltys (the only NGO working on TB in Lithuania), tells us about the TB Europe Coalition’s successful visit to Lithuania.

The charity and support foundation, Saulės Smiltys, was established in 2007. Since then it has actively been supporting patients who are ill with a hazardous and infectious disease – tuberculosis. In addition to providing society with information about TB, its symptoms and effects, Saules Smiltys has helped reduce the number of sick patients by improving treatment and has provided technical support to the Pulmonology departments of Kaunas, Vilnius, Klaipėda and Siauliai.

In June 2011, two members of the TB Europe Coalition visited Lithuania. Saules Smiltys organised an important meeting at the Lithuanian Parliament, chaired by Mr A. Matulas (Chairman of the Lithuanian Parliament’s Health Affairs Committee). The meeting attracted a range of civil society stakeholders as well as leaders of TB services from the Ministry of Health, the National TB and Infectious Diseases TB hospital, academia, and the local WHO office.

The meeting was extremely beneficial as it resulted in major changes for Saulės Smiltys and more generally to a greater cooperation between civil society and governmental structures:

  • Saules Smiltys was invited to join the National TB Programme Committee. This is a great step forward as Saulės Smiltys has been trying to join the committee for a very long time. The most important decisions regarding the National TB Programme are made by the Committee. Therefore, becoming a member will give Saulės Smiltys the ability to influence the implementation of the programme. If everything goes as planned, Saules Smiltys should be a member by September 2011.
  • During the joint meeting, the TBEC members suggested that all actors present form an All-Party Parliamentary Working Group on TB. Saules Smiltys is currently following up with the Chairman of the Parliament’s Health Affairs Committee on the establishment of such a group, which should be created in September. The group will make it possible for NGOs in Lithuania to get involved in the implementation of the TB Programme. It will also give them the opportunity to influence TB politics in Lithuania.
  • Saules Smiltys also created a “STOP TB Partnership” association in Lithuania and continues to accept new members. The association will stimulate political commitment, financial support, patient involvement and community participation. The very first member to join the association was the Centre of Communicable Diseases and AIDS. As the association grows, the proposals by the parties concerned will be presented to the Government. We expect a huge impact on TB politics in Lithuania.

In order to score the objectives identified above, it is important to establish a network of equal partners who can learn from each other’s experiences on how to improve TB politics in Lithuania.