Statement by UNDP Resident Representative, Ms Louise Chamberlain on World TB Day, 24 March 2021
On March 24th, the world commemorates World TB Day, an occasion for all countries to reaffirm their commitment to eradicating TB and ensuring access to TB services to every patient in need. This year, World TB Day falls exactly one year after the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in Kyrgyzstan. COVID-19 has changed many aspects of life, and has had a particular impact on people living with tuberculosis, who are also more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection.
A year ago, scientists warned of the potential disastrous effects the COVID-19 pandemic would have on TB programs. In Kyrgyzstan, one tangible and dramatic consequence was the decrease of diagnosed cases of TB by nearly 30% in 2020 – not as a result of recovery, but resulting from the decrease of people living with TB enrolled in TB treatment. Many patients were either reluctant or unable to seek medical help due to movement restrictions, misinformation, fear of COVID-19, and financial vulnerability. The increased burden on health care workers and facilities directly subsumed in the pandemic response added to the challenges. It is well known that late diagnosis and start of treatment leads to the further spread of TB, an increased severity of cases, and higher mortality.
Nevertheless, 2020 also registered remarkable successes in TB treatment. Despite the worsened situation and obstacles imposed by COVID-19 on the healthcare system, the system achieved remarkable results with UNDP support. In particular, the National TB Program improved the quality of diagnosis and monitoring with 77% of patients with drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis tested for drug susceptibility in 2020, which is 17% higher than in the same period of 2019. Transportation of sputum samples, financed through UNDP/Global Fund Project, was interrupted only for one week during the much longer state of emergency. Monitoring and coordination support provided by the UNDP team as well as continuous technical and capacity development support strongly contributed to minimize the effects of COVID-19 on TB programs and maintain decent and quality services amidst the pandemic.
We commend the staff of the Ministry of Health and the National TB Program for their constant efforts to address the TB epidemic and move steadily towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 3. This year, more than ever, we acknowledge the work of every medical worker who continued to do their best to help patients, without fear for their own risks. We would like to highlight the efforts of the National Reference Laboratory staff who worked day and night to ensure timely diagnosis for both COVID-19 and TB, sometimes without going home to their families for weeks or months at a time.
The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria helped UNDP to support Kyrgyzstan’s healthcare system and TB services by offering flexible support and substantial additional funding. I also recognize our own UNDP HIV and TB project team who went beyond the call of duty to keep TB and HIV programs on track, sustaining the timely delivery of life-saving drugs and medical equipment, despite global shortages, stock-outs, border closures, and many exceptionally difficult logistic challenges.
This year’s slogan for World TB Day is “The clock is ticking”. Despite enormous global effort, TB remains the biggest infectious disease killer, and more than ever needs our joint attention, investments and efforts. We need to encourage families and loved ones to reach out for help, as soon as they experience symptoms, in order to stop the spread. The same measures that protect from COVID-19 also protect from transmission of TB: Wear a mask, wash your hands regularly and keep physical distance.
Just as important, is to share love, support and care for people around us who may be living with this disease. We should all work together on ending stigma towards those who are ill; let us pledge to help and shoulder their burden. Together we can fight TB and achieve our goal to end this disease. Let us work together to save lives and build a healthier world for all !