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Home » Latest News » COVID-19 Poses Huge Challenges to TB and HIV Prevention

COVID-19 Poses Huge Challenges to TB and HIV Prevention

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By Ashok Ramsarup :: The Covid-19 pandemic is posing humongous challenges since the disease has seriously impacted populations around the world. Tuberculosis and Human Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV) has increased in several countries, including India.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released the latest 2021 edition of its Global Tuberculosis (TB) Report. It features data on TB trends and responses in 197 countries.

The report shows for the first time in more than a decade, the number of deaths due to TB has increased to 1.5 million last year as a result of the devastating impact of the Covid-19  pandemic which affected TB care, including testing services.

Organised Medicine Academic Guild (OMAG) Secretary-General Dr Ishwar Gilada has raised concerns that TB is the commonest and deadliest of the opportunistic infections for people living with HIV even today.   Dr Gilada said: “This is not acceptable, as we know how to prevent infection spread, reduce risk of latent TB converting into active disease, and also know how to accurately diagnose and treat TB.

“Preventing TB especially among those at high risk is an imperative for public health in India. Every case of active TB disease (as well as primary drug-resistant TB) comes from latent

TB pool in our population. But only 45% of newly diagnosed people living with HIV

were put on preventive TB therapy in India in 2019.

“We have to multiply our efforts to break the chain of TB transmission as well as reduce the risk for those with latent TB to progress to active disease as far as possible if we are to end TB by 2025,” said Dr Gilada.

The WHO report points out that the Covid-19 pandemic has been grossly responsible for exacerbating neglect of several diseases that were already impacting on populations in epidemic proportions, causing terrible collateral damage. WHO made it abundantly clear that while the pandemic is receding, they are duty-bound to focus on other pressing health challenges.

According to WHO, the number of people newly diagnosed with TB and reported to national governments dropped from 1.7 million in 2019 to only 5.8 million in 2020. They say this alarming reduction in TB case detection and reporting reflects both supply and demand-side disruptions to TB testing services.

Many suppliers are entering the market, TB testing services in countries are still dependent on the GeneXpert TB tests supplied by Cepheid. The American-based diagnostics corporation has received more than 250-million dollars in the last decade to develop the GeneXpert technology, but it has fallen short in providing returns to the public and is overcharging low-and-middle-income countries for the tests.

Civil society groups around the world have raised the alarm bells accusing Cepheid of not being transparent on the production costs of tests for TB and Covid-19 and other diseases.

Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Access Campaign Diagnostics Advisor Stijn Deborggraeve commented: “We cannot accept that year after year 1.5 million people die from the curable disease TB, claiming they do not have access to the diagnostics and drugs that can save lives.

Deborggraeve said with the alarming increase in TB deaths last year due to the Covid pandemic more needs to be done to save lives and ensure more people with TB are diagnosed and treated. MSF teams are currently providing TB testing and treatment in 38 countries.

Dr Gilada who had been first medic to raise the alarm bells against AIDS in India, added: “We cannot afford to lose life-saving medicines for TB and HIV during this critical juncture as all countries in the world have committed to end dreaded diseases by 2030 adopted by the United Nations. India is optimistic of ending TB by 2025.”

Ashok Ramsarup 👉 Prominent Journalist of South Africa 🇿🇦 

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