New Delhi, 20 April 2021: Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare addresed the 5th Global Forum on TB Vaccine, through video conference here today. The Global Forum on TB Vaccines is the world’s largest gathering of stakeholders striving to develop and deploy new vaccines to prevent Tuberculosis (TB).

Addressing the event, the Union Health Minister observed, “Today, we are in the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic that is threatening to derail all the progress made by the global community in the fight against Tuberculosis. The year 2020 has seen how non-COVID services were greatly impacted due to the compulsion of Governments to deploy local and national level lockdowns and other stringent containment measures. National Tuberculosis programs around the world have been the victims of this crisis. Decades of progress has been hampered. However, we must not – and cannot – let this happen. Our efforts towards combating Tuberculosis cannot be compromised and we must not let this pandemic undo the gains acquired over the last five years”.

Taking note of India’s largest burden of TB globally, he said, “We all know that Tuberculosis continues to be one of India’s most critical health challenges which have devastating health, social and financial consequences for the patients and communities at large. With an estimated 2.64 million TB patients, India has the largest burden of TB globally in terms of absolute numbers.”

The Union Health Minister reaffirmed the political commitment of the government to end TB: “Under the able leadership of our Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, we, in India have demonstrated unprecedented political commitment to battle this dreadful disease. Not only have we accorded the highest priority to ending tuberculosis by 2025, but we have also tried our best to ensure that COVID does not impact our TB elimination efforts. High-quality drugs, digital technology, engaging the private sector and communities, integrating TB services across all levels within the health system, are all being constantly aligned to rapidly bring down TB incidence and mortality in the country.”

Highlighting the achievements made by India in ending TB by 2025, Dr Harsh Vardhan said, “By December 2020, India had almost returned to pre-COVID levels in TB enrollment with over 1.8 million patients notified, 11% more than the estimated projections made by us in April 2020. The private sector too has contributed significantly by notifying over 0.5 million patients. More than 95% of the total patients notified were put on treatment. I am proud to announce at this Global Forum that the Union Territory of Lakshadweep and the District Budgam in Jammu & Kashmir have been certified as the 1st TB Free Union Territory and 1st TB Free District in the country, respectively. I consider this as a small but very significant achievement in being able to eradicate TB from micro-zones as the first step. We have launched a “TB Mukt Bharat” campaign – which means a campaign on a war-footing level to free India of TB – to take the effort towards fighting TB to the community level and making it a “People’s Movement.”

He also emphasized the fact that how the current pandemic has demonstrated the vulnerability of humankind to exigencies, recognising that we have to strive to act with greater speed and predictability. “The COVID pandemic has shown us that if we unite, we can have a vaccine in less than a year. Like we have done for COVID, we need to advance technology and product development, focus on building and strengthening scientific capabilities and implementation strategies”, he added.

Dr Harsh Vardhan further added, “Through the India TB Research Consortium, the Indian Council for Medical Research is leading this effort for developing new drugs, diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics. They are also closely working with the BRICS TB Research Network for multi-country collaborations.”

Dr Harsh Vardhan ended his speech exhorting the research community to act fast: “The Global Forum on TB Vaccines is the need of the hour. I would like to work with all of you on these goals and roadmaps for eliminating tuberculosis. India has always been a manufacturing hub. We have demonstrated the manufacturing capabilities be it for drugs, vaccines or diagnostics. I am sure India can and will lead the way. I am sure that driving a constant engagement with all stakeholders will help us achieve the ambitious goal that we at the Forum have set for ourselves.”

The Union Health Minister congratulated everyone for coming together today to discuss TB Vaccines. He also called upon the global community to re-double their efforts to ensure adequate funding, so that, a TB Vaccine can be developed by 2023 and End TB in India by 2025 and Globally before 2030. He also expressed his heartfelt condolences to those families, across the world, and in India, who have lost their near and dear ones to this deadly pandemic.

Dr. Nick Drager, Global Forum Co-Chair and Executive Director, Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative; Dr. Mark Feinberg, Global Forum Co-Chair; Dr. David Lewinsohn, Chair, Stop TB Partnership Working Group on New TB Vaccines; Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director, Stop TB Partnership; Prof. Helen Rees, Founder and Executive Director, Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute; Dr Emilio A. Emini, Director, TB & HIV Program, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Dr Emily Erbelding, Director of the Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Dr Michael Makanga, Executive Director, European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership were also present virtually in the meeting.