The ministers of health of countries in the World Health Organisation South- East Asia Region have committed to renewing and accelerating efforts to end tuberculosis in view of the COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted services and led to increase in tuberculosis cases in an already high-burden region.

Addressing a High-Level Meeting for Renewed TB Response, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom said, "Despite being preventable and treatable, TB kills more than a million people every year, almost half of them in the WHO South East-Asia Region. We must intensify effort towards ending TB."

Inaugurating the meeting, WHO South-East Asia Region Regional Director Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said, "Immediate steps are needed to scale-up preventive, diagnostic and treatment services for TB, and significantly bolster social protection measures, while also specifically addressing under-nutrition among the vulnerable populations."

At the daylong meeting held virtually yesterday, the ministers of health signed an agreement on 'Ministerial Statement of Commitment' unanimously committing to actualise and intensify essential interventions. The meeting was organised by the ministries of health of India, Indonesia, and Nepal and WHO South-East Asia Regional Office.

The ministers committed to multi-sectoral and whole-of-society approach in a bid to end TB with national programmes led by the highest possible political level, and closely monitored for targets. They agreed to increase budgetary and human resource allocations, including upfront investments required to catch-up on lost ground during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is estimated that US$ 3 billion may be needed annually to implement comprehensive set of interventions in order to end TB in the region.

The ministerial statement called for ensuring the highest attainable standards of rights-based, stigma-free, quality-assured and people-centric services. It emphasised that preventive, diagnostic, treatment, rehabilitative and palliative care should be accessible to all, including migrants, prisoners, children, the aged and other high-risk populations, such as people with TB/HIV co-infections. The statement also called for increasing outreach of care by strengthening services at all the possible health centres, and use of innovative care and delivery approaches such as digital health and efficient use of technology to reach the unreachable.

A version of this article appears in the print on October 28, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.