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Integrated TB-HIV responses are a must to meet Sustainable Development Goals

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Living with HIV but dying of TB - or NCDs such as diabetes - is unacceptable!
Living with HIV but dying of TB - or NCDs such as diabetes - is unacceptable!
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Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)

(CNS): At the 2015 United Nations General Assembly, governments committed to achieve SDGs by 2030, one of which is to end AIDS and TB by 2030. If people living with HIV continue to die of TB, we will not only fail to achieve SDGs but also lose gains made in the fights against HIV and TB.

Keeping in mind the crucial interplay of TB, HIV and non-communicable diseases (NCDs), a special session on "Can we afford to lose gains made in fight against HIV and TB? Integrated responses are a must to meet the SDGs by 2030!" was jointly hosted by AIDS Society of India, CNS (Citizen News Service), Lilly MDR TB Partnership, Gujarat AIDS Prevention unit ISRCDE, ARUNA and Vote For Health campaign at the International TB Conference (TB 2016) held just preceding the 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016) in Durban, South Africa.

The panelists were an eclectic mix from the field of affected communities, researchers, private sector, country representatives, and international public health agencies. Each of these voices is no less important than the other. Hence to be fair, here is a glimpse of their responses (in reverse alphabetical order of their names).

Dr Padmapriya Darsini, Senior Scientist, National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR): "In order to sustain and increase the gains we have made in the fight against TB, we need more political commitment to reach SDGs by reducing TB deaths in PLHIV. It takes very long for research findings to reflect in a country's programme. So if there is a political commitment for faster use of research findings for public health, we will be able to better control TB and HIV.

Although India has made a lot of progress, we still have a long way to go. If we get back the political commitment and the funding to the level when we started initially, things will improve. There should be also more linkages between the government and private sector. This would ease the resource crunch and help improve our gains in fighting HIV and TB."

Nomampondo Barnabas, Civil Society Liaison Officer, International Union Against TB and Lung Disease (The Union): "As I have been living with both the diseases, I speak on behalf of both of them. We cannot afford to lose the gains in the fight against HIV and TB. I have been living with HIV since 1997, and was diagnosed with TB in 2006. But I am alive today. When we talk of responses and programmes, we look at the figures and often forget the human faces behind them. Sometimes we tend to work in silos, dealing with one epidemic at a time. This must stop. There is need for integration. We also need to work closely with religious and faith based leaders as people do listen to them."

Dr Haileyesus Getahun, WHO Global TB Programme's coordinator of TB/HIV and community engagement unit, and Co-chair of TB 2016: "We have come a long way in the last decade and having TB 2016 as an integral part of the 21st International AIDS conference bears testimony to it. Even though 6 million deaths of PLHIV due to TB have been averted since 2004, TB is still the leading killer of PLHIV. SDGs give us a very unique opportunity of working together for TB and HIV. Eliminating TB disease in PLHIV should be the starting point.

According to the WHO guidelines, the minimum expectation from TB and HIV programmes is to provide integrated TB and HIV services to people who need them; and governments will have to brace up their efforts. We need to find ways to harmonise our work and synergise our efforts, as well as increase our efficiencies. We have to look at the patient in a holistic manner. Else we will not be able to achieve SDGs.

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