Last week, members of the TB Europe Coalition travelled to Sofia to meet with the Bulgarian National TB Programme and civil society organisations working on TB to learn more about TB activities and advocacy in Bulgaria.

The first day in country, coalition members met with representatives from the National Patients’ Organisation, a non-disease specific umbrella organisation that unites more than 70 patients organisations in Bulgaria. NPO’s activities include national advocacy in which they engage in the legislative process around healthcare, supporting members working in disease specific areas by capacity building, patient empowerment and creating patients groups, and working with the general public by running a call centre that communicates directly with citizens and provides medical and legal advice. NPO currently does not have a TB-specific organisation representing TB patients in Bulgaria, but expressed strong interest in working together to create one.

The TB Europe Coalition also met with Bulgaria’s National TB Programme during which they learned more about the successes achieved and challenges faced in TB control. Bulgaria’s National TB Programme receives funding from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria – funding that is essential to filling the gaps in the National TB programme and funds all MDR-TB drugs and drug resistant TB related activities in Bulgaria. Due to the Global Fund’s funding crisis and changes in eligibility criteria, this funding will run out in 2014, and it is yet to be determined how this funding gap will be filled.

During the second day of the trip, the TB Europe Coalition hosted a roundtable for Bulgarian civil society organisations to meet the Coalition and to share information about their own TB work and advocacy activities. More than a dozen organisations were represented, and participants were able to hear about the advocacy activities the TB Europe Coalition has undertaken. Participants described a lack of TB patients organisations in Bulgaria and expressed their concern with Global Fund funding running out.

The meeting concluded with stakeholders around the table vowing to assist NPO in identifying and empowering the community of TB patients and making sure that patients play an active role in TB control. TB Alert gave an example of a TB patients group in the UK called TB Action Group (TBAG), which took time to set up, but after three years of meetings and support from TB Alert are beginning to feel some strength.

In addition to committing to setting up a patients organisation, meeting participants agreed to sign on to a statement about the necessity of funding TB control activities after the Global Fund funding ends in 2014. The statement will call on the Bulgarian Government and European decision makers to step up and ensure the gains made against TB are not lost after 2014.