The Union

Symposium focused on challenge of TB in conflict-affected communities

Wars, conflict and persecution have displaced more people today than at any other time since records began. Nearly 60 million people are now refugees or internally displaced in their own countries. The war in Syria, now in its fifth year, is the largest driver of displacement – 11.7 million people have fled their homes.

Wars and conflict not only displace people, they destroy healthcare facilities and communities and disrupt services. Without adequate health care, sanitation or prevention measures, deadly diseases like tuberculosis come roaring back.

At the 46th World Conference on Lung Health, the Global Fund and the International Organisation for Migration offered a symposium to address this issue, bringing together the perspectives not only of healthcare leaders on the front lines in conflict-affected populations but also of a Syrian refugee voice who knows the battle with TB all too well.

Today Mr Abdulkarin Al Kasem is a TB survivor, but he was severely ill throughout his journey away from his home in Syria. He could not carry his children and struggled to continue moving forward with his family. By the time they reached Jordan, he was extremely sick. Fortunately, his wife attended a presentation for TB awareness and recognised his symptoms, so he was taken to the National TB Center and diagnosed with TB. “I was really scared and frightened. In Syria, anyone who has TB is very stigmatised.”

He is now completely healthy and cured, but he became emotional as he reflected on those still at home: “I want this for all the TB patients in Syria. There are a lot of TB cases in Syria – I want them to see that I am cured and this can happen for them too.”

Dr Ataulhaq Sanaie from the Afghan Community Research & Empowerment Organization for Development (ACREOD) pointed out that Mr Kasem’s situation is similar to what is happening to many people in Afghanistan. Conflict in the region is continuing to hamper and disrupt the diagnosis and treatment of TB patients.

Dr Khaled Rumman, National TB Programme Manager in Jordan, continues to see an influx of Syrian refugee patients. Although this means pressure on the health system, Jordan believes in access to treatment for all and is working hard to ensure refugees receive proper care.

“Every one of us needs to think about what these people need most and act on it. We will need all your help to find the best and most practical way to help people like Abdulkarin,” said Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership.

This well-attended satellite symposium was chaired by Dr Mario Raviglione, Director of the WHO Global TB Programme, and Prof Asma El Sony, Director and Head of Scientific Activities at Epi-Lab in Sudan.