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International TB Day: Calls for more action to stop deadly disease

A member of medical staff walks down a corridor at the Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) clinic   -  
Copyright © africanews
Brian Inganga/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. -

Tuberculosis

Despite being preventable and curable, tuberculosis remains one of the deadliest infectious diseases in the world.

Amidst the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, World TB Day on the 24th of march marks the occasion for the international community to call for more action to eliminate tuberculosis (TB) as a public health burden by 2030.

Every day, nearly 4000 people die from TB according to the WHO and close to 30 000 people fall ill with TB. In 2019, 10 million people suffered from TB and close to 1.5 million people — over 95% of whom were living in lower- and middle-income countries — died due to the disease. TB remains the leading cause of death of people living with HIV.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem and threatens to unwind the gains made over recent years. Restrictions on movements have resulted in sharp drops in TB case notifications in 2020 and limited access to TB treatments and services.

Global progress in TB prevention is also lagging behind. According to the WHO, only 1 in 5 of the 30 million people targeted for access by 2022 have started a TB preventive treatment.

“About 1/4 of the world’s population, roughly 7 billion people are infected with TB in a latent form,” says Robert Matiru, Director of Programmes at Unitaid. “If this is not treated with preventive measures and therapies it can become active and people will become sick and die”.

Unitaid’s supported project IMPAACT4TB helps to facilitate access to affordable and easier to use TB preventive treatments for people at risk including people living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries.

One of those treatments is called “3HP”, a short course of preventive therapy combining two TB drugs - rifapentine and isoniazid. This has reduced patients’ treatments from one daily dose between 6 to 24 months to one weekly dose for 3 months.

In February, a new fixed-dose combination of this preventive treatment has started to be rolled out in 5 high burden TB countries with the financial support of Unitaid.

This new version reduces the pill burden from 9 pills a week to 3, making it even easier for patients to stick to their treatments with better health outcomes.

The rollout of this new treatment has started in February in five African countries with high rates of the disease: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

In Mozambique, the rollout will first target 3 provinces in the South of the country with a high TB incidence: the City of Maputo, the Province of Maputo and the Province of Gaza.

“If we want to have any chance of ending TB, we need to prevent it in the first place” said Robert Matiru, Director of Programmes at Unitaid.