From 3rd-7th June, TBEC representatives from TB Alert UK, RESULTS UK and Global Health Advocates travelled to Baku, Azerbaijan to meet with a number of TB civil society organisations (CSOs) and stakeholders. The trip was part of a series of visits to countries with high burdens of TB and MDR-TB in the WHO European Region that have been undertaken by the TB Europe Coalition in the past couple of years.  Past countries visits have included: MoldovaBulgariaLithuaniaLatviaEstonia, Ukraine and Romania.

Paul Sommerfeld, TB Alert, and GeneXpert Machine

The aim of our visit, as with previous ones, were to inform local advocates about the TBEC and also to explore how the TBEC might assist with advocacy concerns of Azeri CSOs and draw these advocates into the TBEC.

Bilateral meetings:

As a means of reaching our objectives, we held two days of bilateral meetings with CSOs working on TB in the country. During the week we had a range of interesting, engaging and informative meetings with: the Azerbaijan Health Communication Association; Support to Health; the Centre for Equal Opportunities; Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Social Union and Hayat International. We were also able to meet with a number of other stakeholders, including: USAID; the EU Delegation to Azerbaijan; the National Lung Disease Institute, Global Fund representatives, the CCM Secretariat and the World Health Organisation (WHO). We also went on a field visit to an IDP settlement on the outskirts of Baku where we met with the population and witnessed the impact of TB education activities that had been organized by Hayat.

The concerns raised in terms of CSOs involvement and TB advocacy in Azerbaijan were:

  1. TB financing post-2015: as a result of Azerbaijan’s recent economic boom, many international organisations and donors are now pulling out of the country within the next few years. The Global Fund will phase out of the country post-2015, and USAID will definitely cease operations leaving WHO as the only international organisation left working on TB care and control.  This is concerning given that, currently, the Azeri Government does not seem to be supporting TB activities run by CSOs.
  2. CSOs are unable to play an active role in TB care and control. This is because there is minimal financial support from government and other donors to social support activities and a lack of recognition in the critical role CSOs are able to play in TB control. There is undoubtedly capacity and motivation from CSOs and so it is important that they are recognised for the potential role they can play in helping tackle TB. CSOs also need to collaborate more closely and establish informal cooperation mechanisms to demonstrate their added-value in TB care in a unified voice.
  3. Finally, Advocacy, Communication, and Social Mobilisation (ACSM) activities are not prioritised in TB control and TB financing throughout the country. Similar to the above, there is a general lack of recognition of how useful ACSM activities, such as developing materials, and raising awareness can play alongside providing medication once someone has contracted TB. Funds are needed for both these aspects of TB care and control.

Joint stakeholders meeting:

Stakeholders hear about the work of TBEC

Having met with the range of TB CSOs and other stakeholders, we then held a joint stakeholders meeting. This actually turned out to be the TB subgroup of the Global Fund Country-Coordinating Mechanism (CCM). Participants at this meeting included the CSOs and stakeholders we had met with during the week along with representatives from the CCM, the Lung Diseases Institute, the Global Fund Project Implementation Unit (PIU) from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Justice.

This meeting gave an opportunity for us to present the work of the TBEC, our aims as well as the issues identified during the week and how we might be able to help in partnership with those at the meeting. There was a lively discussion following the presentation, with stakeholders identifying the fact that they all were motivated and had a successful track record in carrying out TB control programmes, but were not financially supported. There were also calls for the groups to be better organised, coordinated and actively looking for projects to concretely show their added value to TB control. All in all, the meeting was successful and definitely seems to have paved the way for future cooperation and action.

Follow-up

Azeri TB CSOs expressed the desire for TBEC to organise an advocacy planning session tied to the local context and particularly to the drafting of the National TB Strategy for 2015-2019. Plans are now afoot to return to Azerbaijan early December to carry out this session. In the meantime, steps are being taken within Azerbaijan to develop a more concrete TB Coalition, with mailing lists, advocacy material and a website.

Sample bottles from the TB Laboratory

It is clear there is a real desire for CSOs to do all they can in TB care and control in Azerbaijan. We extend our thanks to all those we met for an interesting, informative visit and look forward to working with these groups within the TB Europe Coalition.