Wolfheze Workshops 2019: inspiring knowledge exchange & concrete steps forward

KNCV Tuberculosis Foundations can look back at an inspiring edition of the Wolfheze Workshops 2019 (15-17 May). In Scheveningen 160 TB experts from over 40 countries from Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia met for three days. “We are grateful to everyone for their commitment and motivation to learn from each other and to take concrete steps to improve TB control in the European region,” said Ieva Leimane, Wolfheze coordinator of KNCV.

Together with the World Health Organization (WHO Europe) and the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC), KNCV organizes the Wolfheze Workshops every two years. Leimane: “This edition we exchanged knowledge and experiences in the field of TB/HIV co-infection, stigma reduction, multi-resistant tuberculosis, prevention and research. In addition, a number of new working groups have been proposed with the focus on extrapulmonary TB, laboratory, social determinants and infection control.”

Scaling up joint TB/HIV approach

The conference took place on the basis of presentations, panel discussions and workshops. On the opening day, experts in the field of HIV control were brought in for the first time in the nearly 30-year tradition of Wolfheze Workshops. TB and HIV program managers jointly explored how to step up the response to TB/HIV by building on the political commitments at the UN High Level Meeting to end AIDS (in 2016) and the UN High Level Meeting on TB (2018). Heads of State agreed to deliver on the target of reducing TB deaths among people living with HIV and to ensure effective treatment of the TB/HIV co-infection. The alarming tandem of the two infectious diseases TB and HIV is a critical and growing problem in the European region. To respond better, early adoption of new technologies and following up on the new political commitment is required.

A recommendation from the TB and HIV experts was that priority should be given to integrated diagnosis and treatment of patients with TB/HIV co-infection, especially if patients have advanced HIV. To encourage the scaling up of a joint approach, the importance of sharing good practice, political accountability at country and regional levels and better documentation of data was also underlined.

On day 2, a session about improved TB care and prevention was on the program, with a focus on infection prevention and treatment of latent tuberculosis infection in vulnerable populations. Achievements of the European research initiative were highlighted in a short session on current scientific and operational TB research. The afternoon program was dedicated to an update on the latest developments in the field of MDR- / RR-TB management, treatments and guidelines towards a more patient-friendly and effective treatment of M/XDR TB.

Stigma reduction interventions top of mind

Stigma reduction interventions to accommodate patients’ needs for better health was a central theme on the third and final day of the Wolfheze Workshops. “A very important topic. Last on the program, but therefore the best in everyone’s memory and on top of mind when they leave here,” said Leimane.

The inspiring presentation of former TB patient Sholpanata Kaldarov from Kazakhstan about the ‘photo voices’ project, certainly appealed to everyone’s imagination. By participating in this project, Kaldarov managed to overcome his own image about TB and the shame of his illness. By telling his story, he contributed to what the Wolfheze Workshops have stood for for almost three decades: an inspiring exchange of knowledge and practical experiences.

The next edition of the Wolfheze Workshops is in 2021.

KNCV has been fighting TB since its establishment in 1903. Over the past 120 years, the organization has acquired indispensable knowledge and experience in the field of effective TB prevention and care, resulting in pre-elimination in the Netherlands and significant contributions to global evidence generation, policy development and TB program implementation worldwide.

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