From the 16th-18th September 2019, nine advocates from across Europe came to London for the TBEC Knowledge Exchange workshop. Between them, they represented Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Moldova, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, and Ukraine. The background of participants varied greatly, from the Chair of the Global Fund to a TB survivor, from the outreach TB nurse to national TB advocacy officers.

Before the study visit, all participants were asked to develop a project they are planning to implement in their home countries, following the visit. Again, the submitted projects varied greatly, ranging from a research project on TB and diabetes to the implementation of the Global Fund grant activities to developing advocacy strategies towards local municipality.

The key objectives for the study visit were two-fold: first of all, to share the experience of TB advocacy and service delivery, specifically, outreach to vulnerable groups and communities in the UK, and, secondly, to build partnerships and networks amongst the participants by sharing the examples from their home countries and see how the UK experience can apply to their work on the ground.

The workshop began with presentations on the regional and international advocacy in the UK from Aaron Oxley, Executive Director of Results UK; Mike Podmore, Executive Director of STOPAIDS; and Charles Ssonko, HIV, TB, and Hepatitis Adviser for MSF. The speakers discussed the accountability post-UN High-Level meeting on TB, and the current Global Fund Replenishment and the advocacy regarding the UK pledge. Mike also provided an overview of the Global Fund, its structure, and plans for the next few years, following the replenishment.

After lunch, participants had the opportunity to interview a UK Member of Parliament, Chris Matheson, about how he chooses his priority areas, how to most successfully lobby ones’ MP, and what are the mistakes campaigners often make.

His final advice for our speakers was to:

  1. Remember that you are the expert and to trust in your own credibility;
  2. Always provide positive solutions;

Following the meeting with the MP, Janika Hauser (Parliamentary Officer for TB for Results UK) and Kate Thompson (Western European Regional Manager for the Global TB Caucus) presented their organisations, national caucuses, and the All-Party Political Group on Global TB in the UK.

They gave an intense crash course on developing parliamentary advocacy strategies. They looked at ways of advocating, understanding how change happens in specific national contexts, understanding how parliament works, identifying their own strategic assets, how to develop a pathway of change, and building sustainability into the engagement. This was a great opportunity for participants to exchange their own ways of working, their strategic advantages, and evaluate the positions of their stakeholders. One of the participants, long-standing TBEC member Cristina Enache provided an insight into how this has worked in Romania and her experience of parliamentary engagement in Romania specifically.

On Tuesday – day two of the Study Visit – the participants had talks by Dela Anderson, the Results UK Campaigns Coordinator, and Diarmaid McDonald, Just Treatment Lead Organiser.

Results UK has a very unique model of grassroots engagement, building small regional groups who advocate their local MP as well as forming part of the wider national movement. Dela explained how this is organised and some of the ways Results UK involve and support volunteers to become advocates. These were followed by a talk by Hannah McLean-Knight, Campaigns Officer for Send My Friend to School, who explained how the organisation works with schools and children to conduct campaigns. As some of the participants work with youth volunteers or conduct TB awareness campaigns in schools, they were particularly interested in their Teachers’ Packs, which give teachers materials to organise projects.

Working in a very different manner, Just Treatment advocates demanding cheaper prices for drugs in the UK. They argue that patients “should not be denied medicines that could save or change their life”. They organise public awareness campaigns as well as conducting targeted negotiations and advocacy to encourage pharmaceutical companies to reduce their prices, to break the monopoly on unfairly prices medicines, and to demand full transparency in the drug industry.

Finally, TBEC was very lucky to have Sarah Anderson, who is the Head of the National TB Office for Public Health England. She explained how TB services are structured in the UK, what their priorities are, as well as the process that went into developing the national TB strategy. She also introduced the ‘Fingertips’ programme, which allows anyone to investigate the data on TB in the UK to find information on local areas, etc.

Infographic by the Public Health England.

In the UK, TB is particularly prevalent in under-served groups such as homeless people or drug users, so targeted programmes have been developed to prioritise these groups. On Wednesday, we went to see the Find and Treat van, a specialist case-finding programme. The van goes to a range of homeless shelters and other areas popular among homeless people; when we went, it was outside the Whitechapel Mission. Inside the van, people are able to be tested for TB immediately and access support services. The programme aims to “work with the person, not the pathogen to address the underlying determinants of disease and improve health outcomes”. The founder and Clinical Lead of the pan-London Find&Treat Service, Dr Alistair Story also spoke at length about the introduction of the Video Observed Treatment (VOT) in their programmes not only as a cheaper and more acceptable approach but also as one that allows for daily treatment observation from any place or time.

We would like to extend our gratitude to all our speakers and the participants themselves for generously sharing their time and expertise. We are also grateful to Results UK for hosting the event.

Over the next few months, we will be featuring blog posts from our participants regarding their projects following on from the workshop.

If you want to learn more about the study visit or have any questions, please reach out to coordinator@tbcoalition.eu


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