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Leaders urged to fulfill commitments to end TB

FILE PHOTO: TB medication

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The World Health Organisation has called upon world leaders to fulfill their commitments to end Tuberculosis by providing preventive TB treatments to citizens.

A quarter of the world ‘s population is estimated to be infected with TB bacteria. These people are neither sick nor contagious. However, they are at greater risk of developing TB disease especially those with weakened immunity. WHO is optimistic that offering them TB preventive treatment will not only protect them from becoming sick but also cut down on the risk of transmission in the community.

The Director General of WHO Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says that as countries mark World Tuberculosis day today, governments should not forget their commitments to ending TB in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to WHO, the ability of countries to provide preventive treatments will play a big role in reducing the effects of the disease such as poverty among those who are infected.  The call was made during a press briefing held ahead of the World Tuberculosis day, today.

According to WHO, TB is one of the world’s most dangerous respiratory diseases that kill millions annually. In 2018, 10 million people fell ill with TB worldwide and 1.5 million people lost their lives to this disease.

Dr Tedros adds that although some progress has been made towards targets set at the UN high-level Meeting on TB in 2018, TB preventive treatment has been largely neglected. Global leaders committed to ensuring access to TB preventive treatment to atleast 24 million contacts of people with active TB and 6 million people living with HIV by 2022. To date only a fraction of that target has been reached, with countries putting less than 430,000 contacts and 1.8 million people on TB preventive treatment in 2018.

TB remains the top cause of death among people with HIV. TB preventive treatment works synergistically with antiretroviral therapy to prevent TB and save lives. Reinvigorated efforts by governments, health services, partners, donors and civil society will be needed to increase access to TB preventive treatment to the levels targeted.

Dr Tereza Kasaeva, Director of WHO’s Global TB Programme says that more commitment is needed globally to make sure people can get TB preventive treatment.

“As people around the globe come together to commemorate World TB Day, WHO is calling on governments, affected communities, civil society organizations, health-care providers, donors, partners and the industry to unite forces and step up the TB response – notably for TB preventive treatment – to ensure no one is left behind. To this, country’s need to follow the new WHO guidelines,” Dr Kasaeva said.

According to Dr Kasaeva, the new WHO guidelines will give countries safer options for preventive treatment that will change the TB fight. WHO anticipates that as new and safer drugs come onto the markets and as prices fall, it will become a highly-cost effective way to save millions of lives.

The new consolidated guidelines recommend a range of innovative approaches to scale up access to TB preventive treatment. These include; increasing availability of TB preventive treatments among populations with the highest risks like contacts of TB patients, people living with HIV and those who reside in crowded settings.

WHO recommends an integration of TB preventive treatment services into ongoing case finding efforts for active TB. All household contacts of TB patients and people living with HIV are recommended to be screened for active TB. If active TB is ruled out, they should be initiated on TB preventive treatment.

In addition, the new guidelines call for the use of either a tuberculin skin test or interferon-gamma release assay (IGRA) to test for TB infections. For people living with HIV, and children under 5 years who are contacts of people with active TB, testing can be carried after treatment is begun.

WHO also recommends new shorter options for preventive treatment in addition to the widely used 6 months of daily isoniazid. The shorter options that are now recommended range from a 1-month daily regimen of rifapentine plus isoniazid to 3 months weekly rifapentine plus isoniazid, 3 months’ daily rifampicin plus isoniazid, or 4 months of daily rifampicin alone.

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