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KARACHI: While head of states from 42 countries have confirmed their participation in the first-ever United Nations meeting on tuberculosis, there’s silence from Pakistan, a country with high burden of TB cases and a major recipient of foreign donor assistance for free diagnosis and treatment of the disease to its patients.

Health experts raised these concerns at a press conference held by the Pakistan

Chest Society and Stop TB-Pakistan, a body developed by the WHO Eastern Medi­terranean Regional Office and National TB Programme, at the Karachi Press Club on Tuesday.

“We appeal to the president to represent Pakistan in the UN meeting, if the prime minister can’t make it,” said Dr Shahina Qayyum representing the PCS.

Deliberations for the meeting, she said, had been under way for almost a year and now it’s time to sign a global declaration on TB eradication by 2030.

“Why would anyone care for our patients when we are not showing concern towards them? Our absence would send a very wrong message,” she said.

Deliberations for the moot have been under way for almost a year and it’s time to sign a global declaration on eradication of the disease by 2030

Dr Sharaf Ali Shah, vice chairman of Stop TB-Pakistan, said that they had taken up this issue with government officials but had received no response.

“We are told that the foreign minister would attend the three UN sessions starting from Sept 23 but he won’t be there for the TB meeting scheduled on Sept 26, which is likely to be attended by Pakistan’s Ambassador and Permanent Represen­tative to the UN Dr Maleeha Lodhi,” he explained.

According to him, Pakistani health officials and civil society members actively participated in discussions, including the Moscow declaration, prior to the UN meeting and gave their input for the declaration.

“This lapse has apparently occurred due to change in the government. The new government seems to be busy in other matters,” he said in reply to a question, calling upon the media to help highlight the issue.

In reply to a question regarding foreign assistance, he said that The Global Fund, an international body set up to fight tuberculosis, malaria and HIV, had been a major donor of Pakistan for these three diseases.

“It has been supporting us for the past seven years to fight TB and gradually increased their funding. Right now, 95 per cent funds for the TB programme are coming from the GF whereas government contribution has reduced to 5pc.

“After devolution, provincial governments are responsible to run their health programmes. The Sindh government has no budget allocation for TB,” he said.

Sharing some statistics, he said that Pakistan stood fifth among high-burden TB countries after India, China, Nigeria and South Africa. It was estimated that 500,000 new TB cases were reported in Pakistan every year out of which one third of patients failed to get treatment.

“While 15,000 new cases of multi-drug resistant (MDR) TB are reported each year out of which only 20pc received treatment cover. Pakistan ranks 6th in MDR TB cases,” he said.

Highlighting challenges in the fight against TB, he said that it’s a highly infectious disease and one TB patient could infect 10 more people.

“Patients who remained without diagnosis or abandon treatment in the middle are a major threat to public health. The world is not safe even if there is one TB patient. This explains why nations are joining hands against this disease,” he said.

Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2018