By Cecilia Ologunagba
New World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines will save millions of lives and will help countries accelerate efforts to stop people with Tuberculosis (TB) infection becoming sick with TB by giving them preventive treatment.
WHO said this in a statement issued from its headquarters in Geneva to commemorate the World TB Day.
The UN health agency said a quarter of the world‘s population was 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.
“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.
“As we mark World TB Day 2020, the disease remains the world’s top infectious killer.
“ In 2018, 10 million people fell ill with TB worldwide and 1.5 million people lost their lives to this disease.’’
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General said COVID-19 was highlighting just how vulnerable people with lung diseases and weakened immune systems could be.
“The world committed to end TB by 2030; improving prevention is key to making this happen.
“Millions of people need to be able to take TB preventive treatment to stop the onset of disease, avert suffering and save lives”.
Ghebreyesus emphasised the importance to continue efforts to tackle longstanding health problems, including TB during global outbreaks such as COVID-19.
“ At the same time, programmes already in place to combat TB and other major infectious diseases can be leveraged to make the response to COVID-19 more effective and rapid.
“Although, some progress has been made toward 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 at least 24 million contacts of people with active TB and six 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.’’
According to him, TB remains the top cause of death among people with HIV, saying “ 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.
“The new consolidated guidelines recommend a range of innovative approaches to scale up access to TB preventive treatment.’’
The World TB Day that is globally celebrated on 24 March has as its theme “It is Time” this year because we all need to accelerate action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target to end TB epidemics by 2030.