Members of Parliament (MPs) met in New Delhi on 7-8 March to launch the India TB Caucus, committing to focus government efforts on tuberculosis (TB) and work across party lines to address this issue. Thirty MPs from both houses, Rajya Sabha (Council of States) and Lok Sabha (House of the People), and the legislative assembly joined the Caucus, which will advocate for more funding, more comprehensive healthcare services and better policies to reduce the incidence of TB in India.
Government commitment is key to mobilising efforts to end TB worldwide and the Caucus will work collectively and individually as MPs in their regions towards that goal in India. The India TB Caucus will engage with political networks, the Government and civil society groups to raise the profile of the disease and confront the stigma and social isolation associated with it.
India is the country with the highest burden of TB worldwide, accounting for over a quarter of the global total. The World Health Organization estimates a total of 2.8 million new TB patients in India in 2015 alone, according to the 2016 Global TB Report.
Hon Viplove Thakur, MP, Rajya Sabha, co-chair of the India TB Caucus, said, “Today, we are here to talk about an issue that needs urgent attention, especially from all the political representatives.” She went on to say, “As we form the Caucus today, we commit to ending TB in India.”
TB activists and civil society members shared their stories with the MPs. Rhea Lobo, a TB survivor, shared her story about her diagnosis and the stigma she suffered as a result:
“Many people told me that TB is a ‘poor man’s disease’ – but TB does not discriminate. It has no geographic, demographic or economic barriers.”
Two members of the Asia Pacific TB Caucus discussed ways their coalition has made progress against TB and shared advice for establishing an effective political movement in India.
“Elimination of TB will only be achieved with consistent efforts over many years and I believe that in the months to come, the India TB Caucus will play a big role at both the government and grassroots levels to reduce the country’s burden of the disease”, said Senator Lisa Singh, MP, Australia.
“We, as parliamentarians have a responsibility and moral obligation to do whatever is in our power to reduce the TB burden. The India TB Caucus is uniquely positioned to advocate for better and more effective policies and programmes to eliminate TB”, said Dr Nguyen Van Tien, MP, Vietnam.
MPs signed the India TB Caucus Declaration, committing to advocate for increased resources for TB prevention and care in India; raise the issue of TB within their own political networks and ensure it remains among the most urgent political priorities; and sensitise families and communities of those affected by TB, address stigma and ensure access to TB diagnosis and treatment to every patient.
Hon Viplove Thakur (MP, Rajya Sabha, Indian National Congress), Hon Majeed Memon ( MP, Rajya Sabha, Nationalist Congress Party), Hon Dr Kirit Solanki ( MP, Bharatiya Janta Party Loksabha), Hon Dr Boora Narsaiah Goud (Telenaga Rashta Samithi, MP, Loksabha) were appointed co-chairs of the India TB Caucus. Prof P J Kurien, Deputy Speaker, Rajya Sabha was appointed as the Patron of the India TB Caucus.
The meeting was jointly organised by The Union and partners through the Call to Action for a TB-Free India, supported by a Challenge TB grant from the United States Agency for International Development. Other partners in the event included the Global TB Caucus, the Indian Association of Parliamentarians for Population and Development, the Center for Legislative Research and Advocacy, the Global Coalition Against TB, Global Health Strategies, REACH and Aequitas.