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Parliament this week joined the global fight to eliminate tuberculosis (TB), when the Speaker of the National Assembly (NA), Ms Baleka Mbete, led the launch of the South African TB Caucus – a local chapter of the Global TB Caucus. The global caucus rests on a commitment by Members of Parliament across the world to raise TB awareness and support efforts to eliminate the epidemic by 2030.

Members of Parliament from both the NA and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) became patrons of the TB Caucus and joined TB ambassadors and survivors, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Health Organisation for the launch of the South African chapter of the Global TB Caucus.

Activities started with debates in both houses of Parliament, where parliamentarians across party lines declared their undivided support for the fight against TB and resolved to establish the South African Chapter of the Global TB Caucus.

On Tuesday night, Speaker Mbete was the first to sign a declaration that makes several commitments, including using MPs to raise awareness of TB by engaging with the media and in their constituencies on the subject, monitoring the performance of government health programmes and the TB control programme, and developing policies to reduce the prevalence of the disease and legislation that will create an enabling environment for the provision of healthcare services, and TB services in particular.

In the declaration, MPs also made a commitment to advocate for the necessary resources to accelerate progress to end TB, and support the voices of TB patients and vulnerable groups in order to lift the burden of stigma from TB patients and their families.

The Speaker called on Members of Parliament to be at the forefront in fighting TB, to save the lives of the thousands of people who needlessly and prematurely die each year in South Africa from the epidemic.

The Deputy Speaker of the NA, Mr Lechesa Tsenoli, was diagnosed with TB in 1984. He said he did not consider himself a survivor of TB, but rather as “somebody who had TB and got cured after successfully taking treatment. As public representatives often fail to recognise how our own stories can impact on the people we represent; I am happy to add my word in the campaign to increase TB awareness in our country and the world,” said Mr Tsenoli.

Long-time TB ambassador and programme director at the launch, Ms Gerry Elsdon, said that through the launch of the caucus, Parliament is finally recognising the work of TB campaigners. “We are making a historic jump by joining the world in championing the response to TB and efforts to eliminate TB by the year 2030,” she said.

The House Chairperson for Committees, Oversight and Intergovernmental Relations in the NCOP, Mr Jomo Nyambi said the fight against TB should become an integral component of MPs’ constituency work and should feature regularly in Parliament’s programme.

Dr Brian Chirombo, a representative of the World Health Organisation said a TB-free world will only be achieved when leaders spearhead awareness campaigns and efforts to eliminate TB in their countries and regions.

The launch was also attended by, among others, the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Health, Ms Lindelwa Dunjwa, Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Miss South Africa 2018 Ms Tamaryn Green, and musician and New Partnership for Africa’s Development Agency Goodwill Ambassador for TB and nutrition, Ms Yvonne Chaka Chaka.

Sakhile Mokoena
5 September 2018