When new, effective medicines providing safe treatment for widespread debilitating diseases, it is vitally important to ensure that everyone who needs such medicines has access to them. It was with this aim therefore that TBEC held a regional meeting on civil society capacity building for DR-TB.

Existing TB treatments are incredibly gruelling for the patient, but medical innovations (shorter or safer treatments, new medicines, or more exact methods of diagnosis) can genuinely relieve a patient’s suffering. But what use are such innovations if patients aren’t able to access them? What use are new medicines if there’s no way for hospitals to buy them or any way to prescribe that they are needed? Any measurement of the success of innovative treatments has to be countered by an assessment of their accessibility. When everyone has access to new treatments, we can start to talk about how successful they are.

Guidelines on DR-TB Treatment

The recent WHO recommendations on drug-resistant TB (DR-TB) are the first in a long time that provide a genuine possibility to start to improve the treatment of DR-TB by using innovative and more effective medicines with less debilitating side effects. It is therefore vital that we do not waste time; doing so will extend the suffering of people living with TB who have to put up with the current toxic injected regimes.

Group participants stand and sit around a round table

It was with this aim therefore that TBEC held a regional meeting on civil society capacity building in terms of advocacy for safe and accessible treatments for DR-TB in the region of East Europe and Central Asia (EECA). The meeting aimed to increase the potential of civil society activists to advocate for national health systems in the EECA region to use the new WHO guidelines and limit the widespread use of injected treatments with dangerous side effects which are currently given to people with DR-TB. Alongside the provision of new drugs, it is important that everyone has access to social and psychological support as well as medicines. This is especially important for key population groups at all stages, from access to diagnosis to the treatment itself.

Aims of the Meeting on Civil Society Capacity Building for DR-TB

Over the course of three days, participants from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Ukraine and Uzbekistan were able to build their potential to support national programmes in moving to the new WHO guidelines. In particular, the participants were able to :

  1. Increase their awareness and understanding of the guidelines;
  2. Find out about different tools that civil society can use to monitor side effects from DR-TB treatment, and what they must do to ensure the patient’s safety throughout treatment;
  3. Learn about international mechanisms that help lower the price of TB medications;
  4. Identify effective ways to engage with parliamentarians in the EECA region to help overcome structural barriers;
  5. Discuss the experience of Ukraine in introducing the new WHO guidelines and the barriers that arose at various stages and levels during the process;
  6. Identify barriers (at the individual, societal, institutional and legal level) in their own countries that might impede the introduction of the WHO guidelines and steps advocates will need to take to overcome these barriers.

TBEC director Yuliya Chorna stands by a whiteboard and speaks into a mic Participants had the opportunity to strengthen their relationships with other civil society organisations working in the realm of TB and HIV through group exercises, roleplay activities, and through dialogue with experts. They shared their experiences working to control TB and enforce new strategies for treatment at the national and international level. This allowed everyone to determine the steps needed in each country to make sure that safe treatment is available to everyone in need of it. Finally, through the personal stories from people who have survived TB, participants saw that in addition to new drugs, patients need multifaceted treatment at every stage, from diagnosis, treatment options, psychosocial support, especially for key population groups.

Participants holding certificatesWe are stronger and more effective when we understand each other and see what unites us. Cooperation between different organisations in the fight against TB on a regional level is a key part of this process of understanding because sharing the knowledge, experiences, and successes from one country can have a tangible effect on the entire region.

There is still a great deal of work ahead of us in terms of mobilising political will for a move to new treatments for drug resistant TB in different countries. Building up the potential of the nongovernmental sector is one of the first things to do in order to attain this.

If you want to find out more about this meeting, you can view the speakers’ presentations at this link.


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