Australian parliamentarians, their staff and RESULTS Australia members learned more about the way in which COVID-19 is setting back action to reduce the toll of TB, and what action we can take in response, at a webinar the Australian TB Caucus in partnership with Global TB Caucus organised  to share the impact of COVID-19 on TB services and discuss the need to engage with parliamentarians to continue advocating for resources for TB.

Ms Negaya Chorley, CEO of RESULTS Australia, as Secretariat to the Australia TB Caucus, welcomed the participants and highlighted the importance of this webinar in these difficult times. When we all are focusing on COVID-19 we also need to look out for deadly infectious diseases like TB.

 

How engaging with parliamentarians works

Hon Warren Entsch, Co-chair of the Australian TB Caucus acknowledged the contribution made by the Australian Government and the role parliamentarians played in securing these commitments.  For example, in the last 12 months, Australia has pledged $242 million for the Global Fund Replenishment for 2020 to 2022 and committed an additional AUD 13 million for TB elimination in the Asia Pacific region.

 

Impact of COVID on TB- lived experiences 

Demi Mason (Australia), Iru Tofinga (Papua New Guinea) and Paran Sarimita (Indonesia) spoke about their experiences as TB Survivors. Each of them spoke about the impact that TB has had on their lives and highlighted the challenges they faced in each of their contexts. Please visit our webpage to watch Demi’s journey as a TB survivor.

 

Worrying numbers

Dr Lucica Ditiu the Executive Director of Stop TB Partnership, shared the worrying findings from the modelling exercise on the impact of COVID-19 on TB services. The disruptions to health services due to COVID lock down could result in an additional 6.3 million new TB cases and an additional 1.4 million TB deaths between 2020 and 2025. The situation could get worse if the lock down and delay in recovery continues.

She said that leadership from MPs is necessary to ensure resources are being mobilised effectively. She also emphasised the fact that addressing TB in the Asia Pacific is fundamental to making global progress against the epidemic and Australia must lead the region. 

 

Lessons and solutions

Dr Suman Majumdar from the Burnet Institute said that COVID-19 has brought global health and health security into focus. There are synergies in the two diseases but the response to each will have some differences. 

Four lessons for action from COVID-19

  1. Political leadership: Leadership is needed to meet SDG goals and ensure access to health.
  2. Community empowerment: A top-down approach in achieving widespread disease prevention and treatment would not work. The community needs to be the centre of the strategy
  3. Public Health Response: Search, treat and prevent is the key in flattening the curve
  4. Access to science and technology (research): Optimising existing tools and developing new tools not just to flatten but to bend the curve.

He highlighted the synergy of COVID-19 and TB political leadership needed to ensure equal access to the COVID vaccine when it becomes available, and the fact that community involvement is key particularly on detection, treatment and prevention for both COVID-19 and TB. You can access the copy of the presentation here.

Australian investment has supported global TB programs with investment through multilateral and bilateral investments, and further action is needed to achieve global and regional goals to combat TB. The joint Action statement signed last year highlights the way forward for Australia’s leadership in the region.

  1. Create regional partnerships
  2. Scale-up implementation and innovation
  3. Embed research
  4. Empower the community
  5. Resource mobilisation-Innovation in financing

Q&A discussion

 Ms Sharon Claydon, MP, Co-chair of Australian TB Caucus moderated a discussion on key points from the presentations, which covered the following topics.

Is there any evidence that the search of COVID vaccine has impaired search for TB vaccine?

We have the evidence that TB research (operational and trials) has been impacted as it has been put on hold due to COVID-19.

What is the status of vaccines for TB?

There are potentially good candidates for new TB vaccines, so the answer is yes when it comes to promising TB vaccines. But the challenge is not in the science but securing predictable and steady funding for TB vaccine for the next 5 years of US$ 700 million.

If we can fund the response to COVID-19 we can also fund TB research and services, and there is an opportunity when it comes to delivering diagnostic testing and vaccine for TB along with COVID-19.

At the end of the webinar, Ms Claydon restated that the Australia TB Caucus will continue advocating with the Australian government for sustainable funding for TB, to keep parliamentarians informed about the impact of COVID-19  on TB and to hold our government accountable to the targets set in 2018 at the UN High-Level Meeting on TB.  .

If you have any questions related to the webinar please contact Shiva Shrestha at shiva.shrestha@results.org.au