Vardhan appointed chairman of Stop TB Partnership Board

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New Delhi, Mar 17 (PTI) Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has been appointed as chairman of the Stop TB Partnership Board in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the movement of eradicating tuberculosis from India by 2025.

The ‘Stop TB Partnership’ is a unique international body with the power to align actors all over the world in the fight against tuberculosis (TB).

The participation of a wide range of constituencies gives the global body the credibility and the broad range of medical, social and financial expertise needed to defeat the disease. The Partnership’s vision is a TB-free world, the health ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

'The appointment of Harsh Vardhan as the Chair of this prestigious global body is a proud recognition of India’s political commitment to eradication of TB. The Union Health Minister will hence, serve a three-year term, commencing July 2021, as the Chair of the Board of Stop TB Partnership,' the statement said.

Established in the year 2000, the Stop TB Partnership is mandated to eliminate tuberculosis as a public health problem, the ministry stated.

India has committed to eliminating TB by 2025, five years ahead of the global deadline of 2030.

The government's National Strategic Plan for TB Elimination 2017-2025 outlines an ambitious agenda and targets, which exceed even the aspirational ones set by the World Health Organisation's (WHO) 'End TB Strategy' for the world.

This has attracted the attention of members of the organisation who want to learn and benefit from the medical advancements and practices to eliminate the disease as is being implemented through the National Strategic Plan in India, the statement stated.

'With a recovery rate of about 97 per cent and mortality rate less than 2 per cent, India is also one of the few countries that have successfully contained COVID-19. The pandemic has renewed the focus on airborne communicable diseases in India, with heavy investment now being prioritised for public health care,' the ministry said.

Vardhan has been a vocal proponent of repurposing the COVID-19 containment infrastructure and use the lessons learned in the elimination of TB in a big way.

Several dedicated Infectious Disease Hospitals have come up as a part of the pandemic response measures which would contribute in a major way towards TB care and management, the statement said.

The molecular diagnostic capacity of the country has increased multi-fold. These multi-platform devices based on cartridge and chip-based technology can decentralise TB diagnosis.

Behavioural changes acquired during the pandemic such as cough hygiene, use of masks, physical distancing, which helped reduce the transmission of other respiratory diseases, among others, be used in generating awareness against Tuberculosis as well, it said.

The increased uptake of telemedicine and teleconsultation during the pandemic will also provide channels of consultation for tuberculosis.

Vardhan has also been a strong votary of turning the fight against TB into a Jan Andolan (people’s movement).

He has urged all stakeholders to come together to devise an effective communication strategy which would focus on reaching the maximum population; complement with preventive, diagnostic and curative aspects of TB management; work towards demand generation; ensuring regular high visibility mass-media coverage; and also focus on community ownership and mobilisation, the statement said.

In September 2019, the health minister had launched a new and aggressive “TB HaregaDeshJeetega” campaign along with the National TB Prevalence Survey. Since then, multi-stakeholder and community participation has formed the pivot of the countrywide campaign.

Patient forums have been established in over 95 per cent of all districts within the first 100 days of the launch of the campaign, which clearly shows his strong commitment to ending TB in the shortest possible time, it said.

Acutely aware that the COVID pandemic has set the clock back by many years through treatment interruptions, hindered availability of drugs, shrinking supply of diagnostic tests, delays in diagnosis etc, the Union minister has been holding high-level meetings every month to maintain steady focus at all levels of the government in scaling back lost ground, it added.

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