Why MPs might hold the last card in TB control

Diana Wangari, CNS Correspondent, Kenya
Photo credit: CNS: citizen-news.org
(First published in The Star News, Kenya)
When it comes to combating health epidemics and strengthening health systems in a country, the role of our elected leaders should not be underestimated. Think about the huge difference it would make if there were political will behind health initiatives. Every Member of Parliament would be working with their constituencies.

It would be lending a voice to the voiceless. For it is well and good to have a cause, but the process moves a whole lot faster and gains much more attention if those in positions of power offer their support. And what cause deserves more attention than that of ensuring good health for the people? Isn’t the ‘Beyond Zero’ campaign launched by the First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta, to improve maternal and child health outcomes in Kenya, a perfect example?

TB has been in existence for over decades and, despite advancement in science and technology, there is no new TB vaccine that has been launched, and none for adults for that matter. Most of the anti-TB drugs that are being used today were being used over a decade ago also.

While TB has been evolving over time, with cases of Multi Drug Resistance TB (MDR-TB) increasing and Extensively Drug Resistant TB (XDR-TB) being reported, funding for TB care and control does not match the global TB burden. It takes a minimum of six months to complete a TB treatment course, which includes multiple drugs. To top it all, if a person develops resistance to not one, but two of the most powerful of the anti-TB drugs, it becomes a case of MDR-TB and if the form of TB is resistant to at least four of the core anti-TB drugs it progresses to still more difficult to cure XDR-TB. With treatment options for MDR/XDR-TB options being limited and very expensive, the disease becomes still more difficult to handle.

There is an impending danger that soon the drugs in circulation might prove to be ineffective. Therefore, with such a possibility looming over our heads, TB deserves all the attention and support that it can get. A great effort was made late last year during the 45th Union World Conference on Lung Health held in Barcelona. On 30th October 2014, parliamentarians and political leaders spanning five continents signed the Barcelona Declaration on Tuberculosis, committing to work for sustained actions and significant investments in the fight against TB.

The declaration was the result of the inaugural Global TB Summit, which was held in conjunction with the conference. This first-ever Global TB Summit brought together elected representatives from around the world to galvanize the political will needed to tackle TB, and to create a clear vision for the role of parliamentarians in combating the epidemic.

“As elected representatives we have reached across geographic and political divides to plan how we can use our leadership and influence to demand more effective action to beat the TB epidemic”, said Nick Herbert MP, co-chairman of the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group on TB (APPG), which co-organised the Summit with the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union).

In addition to the Declaration, the Summit also resulted in the creation of a Global TB Caucus—a globe-spanning network of parliamentarians that will drive these efforts. “By signing the Declaration we are committing to work together in a global effort to prioritise TB on political agendas in every country which has a role in combating this disease. The world cannot afford to make choices between tackling these terrible diseases – it must fight on every front to beat these epidemics”, said Herbert.

The Declaration also called for a new model of research and developments for TB that will sustain and enhance the existing pipeline to introduce desperately needed new TB drugs, diagnostics and vaccines and ensure that new treatments are available, accessible, appropriate and affordable for all who need them.

Kenya was equally well represented in the conference by three members of the National Assembly: Dr Robert Pukose, Vice Chair of the Health Committee, and members Stephen Mule and Dr James Murgo. The MPs were keen to acknowledge that political leadership is key in combating TB and that they hoped to drive the movement in Kenya to ensure that TB programmes received support.

During the celebration of World TB Day on March 24, this year (2015) MP Stephen Mule drew the attention to the Barcelona Declaration and urged members to sign the declaration in demonstration of their support to the global agenda of eliminating TB. The Chair of the global parliamentary caucus on TB reported that 133 MPs had signed the declaration and expressed the desire to be part of the combined commitment in lowering and ultimately eliminating TB in Kenya, Africa region and the world over.

TB has plagued us for over decades and it is time that we committed ourselves to bringing an end to it. We must strive to attack and that necessitates political will. And with the recent launch of that National Strategic Plan for Tuberculosis, Leprosy and Lung Health 2015- 2018, Kenya is taking the first step in the right direction.

(First published in The Star News, Kenya)  

Diana Wangari, Citizen News Service - CNS 
15 April 2015