By Cecilia Ologunagba
World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus called on member states to do more to end tuberculosis (TB) as COVID-19 continues to impact people TB care around the world.
Ghebreyesus made the call in his remarks at the high-level event: “The Global Effort to Scale Up Tuberculosis Prevention” on Wednesday.
In his speech on the WHO website, the director-general said that around 1.4 million fewer people received care for tuberculosis in 2020, down 21% from 2019; this disruption could cause half a million more deaths.
“While vaccines now give the world hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic, we do not have an effective vaccine against tuberculosis, but we do have tools to prevent people at high risk from developing the disease. disease.
“This includes preventive treatment, which reduces the risk of disease by up to 90% and can provide years of protection against TB and the risk of premature death for people living with HIV.
“It can also prevent hospital visits and protect families and communities from catastrophic costs, but overall we’re not using this tool as effectively as we could.
“Although the number of people benefiting from this life-saving intervention has quadrupled since 2015, it is not enough. “
According to him, tuberculosis remains one of the leading causes of infectious death worldwide and the leading cause of death among people living with HIV.
The chief executive said that despite being a preventable, treatable and curable disease, tuberculosis has killed more than 1.4 million people each year and affects millions more, with huge impacts on families and communities.
“Ending this debilitating disease remains a priority for WHO, and in recent years we have made encouraging progress globally.
“More than 20 million people have accessed TB services in the past two years, nearly five million more than the previous two years.
“109 countries have started using new effective anti-tuberculosis drugs, while 89 countries have reported using better and faster treatments for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, according to updated WHO treatment guidelines.
“But the COVID-19 pandemic has put those gains at risk; not only does the virus pose an increased risk for people with tuberculosis, but it has also caused serious disruption of services, ”he said.
In 2018, Ghebreyesus said member states at the United Nations High-Level Meeting on Tuberculosis made bold commitments to provide preventive treatment for tuberculosis to at least 30 million people by 2022.
“This included 24 million contacts of people with TB and six million people living with HIV.
“While we are on track to reach the goal for people living with HIV, we are a long way from reaching the contacts of people with TB.
“By 2020, less than 10% of the target had been achieved.
“If we are to meet the high-level United Nations targets for preventive treatment of tuberculosis in the remaining 18 months, we must act urgently,” said the Director-General.
To achieve the goal, he said, preventive TB treatment should be provided to at least three contacts, on average, for each TB patient detected.
“To achieve this, we need three things: First, we need to scale up preventive treatment for household contacts of people with TB, including children, alongside efforts to find people with TB among people living with TB. with HIV.
“We need to pay special attention to settings where the prevalence of undetected TB is high, such as informal settlements and prisons.
“Second, we call on ministries of health to expand access to primary health care and community services to reach the homes of every TB patient.
“It will also require investments in technologies recommended by the WHO to detect, test and care for affected households. “
Third, the Director General said that all stakeholders should work together to build the capacity of health workers and health systems on the use of preventive TB treatment and overcome hesitation.
“We have a lot of work to do, but it can be done; We have shown this by reaching our goal of treatment coverage for six million people living with HIV, well before 2022.
“Such successes should strengthen our resolve to reach all contacts and other populations in need of preventive treatment for tuberculosis.
“New technologies like digital radiography, computer-assisted detection and molecular diagnostics offer the potential to do better with less,” he said.
As we rush towards the 2022 targets set by the United Nations high-level meeting, the Director-General reminded Member States that the fight to end TB is not just a fight against a single disease.
“It is also the struggle to end poverty, inequality, substandard housing, discrimination and stigma, and to expand social protection and universal health coverage.
“If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that health is a human right, not a luxury for those who can afford it; with solidarity, determination and the fair use of tools, we will defeat COVID-19.
“And with the same solidarity, the same determination and the equitable use of tools, we can end TB,” he said. (NAA)