Faced with the threat that the COVID-19 pandemic will divert the global response to tuberculosis, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) calls on governments to accelerate testing, treatment and prevention of disease, and asks donors to provide the financial support necessary to ensure greater access to new medical tools to diagnose and treat millions of people with this deadly disease.
In a report published by MSF and the Stop TB Partnership – Step Up for TB alliance, 37 countries with a high TB burden were surveyed and showed that vital medical innovations are coming to a much smaller number of people that they urgently need them, because many countries still do not align their national policies with the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.
“Instead of taking a step forward in the fight against tuberculosis, clet’s pray the risk of backing down due to COVID-19, “said Sharonann Lynch, senior TB policy advisor for MSF’s access campaign.
“We cannot emphasize how urgent it is now for governments and donors to step up efforts to bring critical medical tools and innovations to people with TB. Finally, we have better drugs and tests to address and prevent this extremely infectious but curable disease, so it is mind-boggling and unacceptable that they are not yet being used to save as many lives as possible, “he emphasized.
Reporting on the severe impact of the pandemic on services to treat tuberculosis, the WHO revealed a sharp decline in the number of people diagnosed. In addition to the need for updating to maintain the continuity of existing tuberculosis services, he recommended that countries adopt and implement better policies and practices for testing.
At present, countries continue to fail to implement updated policies for testing that can help reach to almost three million people that have not yet been addressed.
As the report highlights, a whopping 85 percent of the countries surveyed still do not use the urinary LAM test for tuberculosis at care sites for routine diagnosis in people living with HIV, as recommended by the WHO.
In Kyrgyzstan, a girl with tuberculosis at the Osh pediatric hospital prepares for the day. Weight loss is often one of the first symptoms of the disease Source: Maxime Fossat
“As physicians working on the front lines of the tuberculosis epidemic, it is distressing to see the slow uptake of TB LAM in national treatment programs, despite the fact that it has been proven to saves the lives of people living with HIV“said Dr. Patrick Mangochi, MSF deputy medical coordinator in Malawi.
“Countries should intensify the use of LAM TB as a core component of testing services, otherwise delays in diagnosing people with TB and their subsequent initiation of treatment will continue to fail people with HIV who contract TB. “, he warned.
Tuberculosis remains the deadliest infectious disease in the worldMore than 10 million people contracted it and 1.4 million died of this disease in 2019.
WHO guidelines urgently need to be applied to minimize unnecessary risk from COVID-19 by reducing visits to health centers, but without interrupting treatment. Countries must take immediate steps to implement people-centered policies, including initiation of treatment and follow-up in primary health care centers.
In addition, national treatment programs should prioritize the use of fully oral treatment regimens for people with drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB), and who no longer include the older toxic drugs that need to be injected and cause serious side effects.
The report found that only 22 percent of the countries surveyed allow treatment and follow-up for tuberculosis cases to be started and carried out in a primary health care facility, rather than traveling to a hospital, for example, and that drugs are take at home. In addition, 39 percent do not use a modified, fully oral, short-course treatment regimen, and 28 percent of the surveyed countries continue to use injectable drugs to treat children with DR-TB.
“I have been through a harrowing journey of being treated with drugs that have excruciating side effects and I lost one of my lungs“said Meera Yadav, a survivor of extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) in Mumbai, India.
“Finally, in 2016 I was able to access the new drugs as part of the regimen that saved my life. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through this ordeal. With the new drugs, it is now possible to give people an oral treatment that it can cure them. People with tuberculosis can no longer be excluded from accessing these innovations, especially when they are afraid to visit treatment centers due to COVID-19, “he stated.
You can read the full report (in English) by clicking here.
This note is from MSF and is published under an editorial alliance with El Financiero to disseminate the work of the institution
Doctors Without Borders was founded in France in 1971 by a group of doctors and journalists. They won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 for their humanitarian work on various continents. MSF has operations in more than 70 countries, including Mexico, where the office was established in 2008.
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