Credit: Jonathan Stillo

European Commissioner on Health and Consumer Policy, John Dalli, and WHO Europe Regional Director, Zsuzanna Jakab, were in Romania last week to participate in the announcement of Romania’s 2012-2015 National Plan for Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB) Prevention and Management. Also in attendance were representatives from the Romanian Ministry of Health, the American, Norwegian, and Swiss Embassies as well as many representatives from Romanian civil society organisations. These included, amongst others, the Romanian Angel Appeal, the Romanian MDR-TB Patient’s Association, and the National Union of Organisations for People Affected by HIV/AIDS. One of those in attendance, Dr. Silvia Asandi, General Director of the Romanian Angel Appeal, praised the approval of the plan, but cautioned that:

“Right now, the Ministry of Health does not possess the legal and financial leverage in order to sub-contract the services provided by the non-governmental organizations for prevention, care and social support activities which, in other countries, are carried out exclusively by NGOs. In order to reach our goal and fight tuberculosis, we need to work together! There are places that only NGOs can reach – poor, isolated, vulnerable communities, with no access to basic medical services and where the Ministry of Health programs are hardly implemented.”

Every day in Romania, seventy-seven people become ill with TB and four die from it. Comissioner Dalli applauded Romania’s adoption of the plan pointing out the urgency of Romania’s TB problem, specifically that 30% of the EU’s cases of drug-resistant TB are in Romania. The plan will be funded with €23 million over the course of four years and aims to achieve a 75% treatment success rate by 2015. The plan will improve treatment as well as strengthen the laboratory network, including the introduction of rapid antibiotic resistance testing.

Romanian MEP Cristian Buşoi, who travelled from Brussels to attend, closed the event with especially powerful remarks. He stated that Romania presently has an MDR-TB cure rate of 20% which is lower than many of the world’s poorest countries and that the greatest reason for this is a failure to provide patients with a level of MDR-TB treatment that is up to European standards. He reminded those gathered that MDR-TB is not only a Romanian problem, but one of the entire region and that Romania will need support to address this issue. He repeated Commissioner Dalli’s recommendation that Romania pursue EU structural funds to strengthen its health system.

Working with TB in Romania does not always inspire optimism. The TB programme has been chronically under-funded and even providing basic second line drugs to MDR-TB patients has often been impossible due to stock-outs. However, the prevailing attitude at today’s launch was one of hopefulness—that this could be the beginning of a real commitment on the part of the Romanian government to fund TB control in Romania. At the very least, the approval of the MDR-TB plan means increased treatment success rates and ultimately, fewer lives lost.

The Stop-TB Partnership Romania has also released a press release welcoming the Ministry of Health’s decision to approve the National Plan. They suggest it answers the most urgent needs for treatment, diagnosis and care for the MDR-TB patients in Romania. You can read the press release here.