World TB Day: WHO calls for increased investments to TB services, research 

The World Health Organisation, (WHO) has called for an urgent investment of resources, support, care and information into the fight against Tuberculosis (TB).

The organisation made the call in a press release on Tuesday, ahead of the 2022 World Tuberculosis Day, annually marked on March 24.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the day was fixed by the UN to raise awareness about the deadly infectious disease and its devastating health, social and economic impact on people around the world.

March 24 marks the day in 1882 when Dr Robert Koch, a German Physician and Microbiologist, announced that he had discovered the bacterium that causes TB, which opened the way toward diagnosing and curing the disease.

The day is, therefore, observed as World Tuberculosis Day and has “Invest to End TB. Save Lives” as its 2022 theme.

The World Health Organisation, which stated that although 66 million lives were saved since 2000, the COVID-19 pandemic had reversed those gains.

It added that “the 2022 theme conveys the urgent need to invest resources to ramp up the fight against TB and achieve the commitments made by global leaders.”

It said that the ongoing conflicts across Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East further exacerbated the situation for vulnerable populations, adding that “global spending on TB diagnostics, treatments and prevention in 2020 were less than half of the global target of 13 billion dollars annually by 2022.

“For research and development; an extra 1.1 billion dollars per year is needed.”

The WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros  Ghebreyesus, said “urgent investments are needed to develop and expand access to the most innovative services and tools to prevent, detect and treat TB that could save millions of lives each year, narrow inequities and avert huge economic losses.

“These investments offer huge returns for countries and donors, in averted healthcare costs and increased productivity.”

Ghebreyesus said the investments in TB programmes demonstrated benefits not just for people with TB, but for health systems and pandemic preparedness.

According to him, building on lessons learnt from COVID-19 research, there is a need to catalyse investment and action to accelerate the development of new tools, especially new TB vaccines.

He said 20 million people were reached with TB treatment between 2018 and 2020, adding that “this is 50 per cent of the five-year target of 40 million people reached with TB treatment for 2018 to 2022.

“During the same period, 8.7 million people were provided TB preventive treatment. This is 29 per cent of the target of 30 million for 2018-2022, “he said.

Ghebreyesus said the situation was even worse for children and adolescents with TB.

He said in 2020, an estimated 63 per cent of children and young adolescents below 15 years with TB were not reached with or not officially reported to have accessed life-saving TB diagnosis.

Ghebreyesus said that almost two thirds of eligible children under five did not receive TB preventive treatment and therefore remained at risk of illness.

He said COVID-19 had a further negative and disproportionate impact on children and adolescents with TB or at risk, with increased TB transmission in the household, lower care-seeking and access to health services.

According to him, WHO is sounding the alarm on World TB Day, for countries to urgently restore access to TB services, disrupted due to COVID-19 pandemic for all people with TB, especially children and adolescents.

Dr Tereza Kasaeva, the Director of WHO’s Global TB Programme, also said “children and adolescents with TB are lagging behind adults in access to TB prevention and care.

“The WHO guidelines issued today are a game changer for children and adolescents, helping them get diagnosed and access care sooner, leading to better outcomes and cutting transmission.

“The priority now is to rapidly expand implementation of the guidance across countries to save young lives and avert suffering.’’

She said that he had updated guidelines for the management of TB in children and adolescents released by WHO and highlighted new patient-centred recommendations for diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

Kasaeva said that the most recent recommendations were diagnostic testing that expanded to include non-invasive specimens such as stools.

Others are rapid molecular diagnostics being recommended as the initial test for TB diagnosis for children and adolescents.

“Children and adolescents who have non-severe forms of drug-susceptible TB are now recommended to be treated for four months instead of six months, as well as TB meningitis, where a six-month regimen is now recommended instead of 12 months, he said.

She added that such would promote a patient-centred approach that would reduce the cost of TB care for children, adolescents and their families.

The director said that the two of the newest TB medicines to treat drug resistant TB (bedaquiline and delamanid) were now recommended for use in children of all ages.

She said it would make it possible for children with drug-resistant TB to receive all-oral treatment regimens regardless of their age.

She explained that the new models of decentralised and integrated TB care were also recommended, which would allow more children and adolescents to access care or preventive treatment, closer to where they live.

“TB remains one of the world’s deadliest infectious killers.

“Each day, more than 4,100 people lose their lives to TB and close to 30,000 people fall ill with this preventable and curable disease.

“Ending TB requires concerted action by all sectors. On World TB Day, WHO calls on everyone – individuals, communities, societies, donors and governments to do their part to
end TB.”  (NAN)