On 16-19 September 2013, TBEC Steering Group member, Timur Abdullaev, attended the 63rd WHO Regional Committee for Europe in Turkey. Here he shares his thoughts on the event.

In spite of outrageously beautiful weather and breathtaking views from the windows of the hotel there were very few empty seats in the conference room when the session started.

As a representative of TB Europe Coalition with an observer status, I could easily flee to the beach and enjoy the sea. I have to be honest; I am not a great observer. I prefer to act and contribute; to participate rather than to attend. Call me insane, but I was among those civil society people who felt obliged to listen to sometimes boring speeches and to follow proposed changes to draft resolutions.

On the first day, it was interesting to hear the report of the Regional Director; discussion of the WHO reform was also quite informative. On the second day, there was a discussion of the progress in implementation of Health 2020, and development of Health 2020 monitoring framework.

I was concerned, however, that I was hearing very little from civil society and I asked myself whether my attendance was necessary. I was not the only one to think that way: I found out that the person sitting next to me, Mary Higgins from the International Council of Nurses, shared my feelings. We agreed that civil society could have contributed in a more meaningful way, if given an opportunity. With these concerns, we addressed WHO Secretariat staff members. Surprisingly to us, by the end of the day we received an invitation to a civil society meeting with Mrs. Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO EURO Regional Director, and members of the Executive Committee to take place on the next day before the plenary session.

The meeting with the Regional Director was great – civil society activists were enthusiastic sharing concerns about their passive role and proposing recommendations on how to enable civil society to productively support the Regional Committee. Regional Director was very attentive and, in turn, proposed NGOs to present some consensus statement on the plenary.

The third day was also the most important for me as a TB person, as on that day the Committee considered Progress report on the implementation of the Consolidated Action Plan to Prevent and Combat MDR and XDR TB in the WHO European Region 2011–2015. The report concluded that since the endorsement of the Consolidated Action Plan in September 2011, most of the milestones outlined were met. The Secretariat’s key achievements include the establishment of the Green Light Committee (GLC), the provision of technical assistance to Member States on MDR-TB, and the launch of the European TB Laboratory Initiative (ELI) to scale up quality diagnosis. Task forces have also been established to improve prevention and control of childhood TB, develop the role of surgery in TB treatment, draft a consensus document on cross-border TB control and care, and assess and address health system and social determinants of TB in line with Health 2020. Moreover, despite having relatively high TB/ MDR-TB rates, the Baltic States have successfully halted the further increase of MDR-TB.

Importantly, the report also recognizes that the management of patients crossing borders is still not being fully addressed by most Member States, and that in the absence of effective treatment, resistant strains of TB will spread in health care facilities and communities, with serious consequences for the financial and human resources of health care systems. The full report is available here.

In the afternoon, civil society representatives gathered again to develop the statement, which, given the little time available and the different priorities of organizations present, was quite short and related to process rather than substance of the Regional Committee meeting. The statement expressed gratitude to Regional Director and the WHO EURO Executive Committee for meeting with the NGOs, commended the WHO European Regional Committee for their work, and expressed hope for closer collaboration of civil society, WHO Europe and Member States regionally and nationally. The statement was endorsed by a number of NGOs, including TBEC. But, unfortunately, it was not published on the WHO website.

On behalf of TBEC, I was asked to address the conference on behalf of TBEC, which pointed out the lack of involvement of CSOs in national TB responses and stressed for greater collaboration between CSOs in the Health 2020 framework. You can watch the statement below.

Overall, I have to say my feelings about the meeting are quite mixed. While I value the opportunity for TBEC to present a statement and was impressed by the quick response of the WHO to meet with CSOs, I doubt these efforts actually allowed CSOs to effectively contribute. Moreover, none of the resolutions adopted at the meeting explicitly mentioned TB. Still, I prefer to believe that CSOs will be allowed more opportunities for input in the future.