As COVID-19 rages, WHO calls for more efforts to prevent TB

With nations around the world confronting the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) reminded people today that another respiratory illness—tuberculosis (TB)—remains the world’s leading infectious disease killer and urged more action to prevent the disease.

In a statement[1] marking World TB Day, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need to continue tackling longstanding health problems like TB, a lung disease that could leave millions worldwide at even greater risk for poor outcomes from the novel coronavirus.

“COVID-19 is highlighting just how vulnerable people with lung diseases and weakened immune systems can be,” Tedros said. “The world committed to end TB by 2030; improving prevention is key to making this happen.”

New TB guidance

As part of the effort, the WHO released new consolidated TB guidelines[2] that focus on scaling up access to preventive treatment. The recommendations call for screening and preventive treatment for people at highest risk of acquiring the disease, including household contacts of TB patients, people living with HIV, and people living in crowded conditions.

The guidelines also recommend shorter preventive treatment options that could reduce the regimen from 6 months to as little as 1 month.

“As people around the globe come together to commemorate World TB Day, WHO is calling on governments, affected communities, civil society organizations, health-care providers, donors, partners and the industry to unite forces and step up the TB response—notably for TB preventive treatment—to ensure no one is left behind,” Tereza Kasaeva, PhD, director of the WHO’s Global TB Programme, said.

The WHO estimates that there were 10 million new active cases of TB and 1.5 million TB deaths worldwide in 2018. But roughly one-fourth of the world’s population (about 2 billion people) is estimated have latent TB, which means they are infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis but have no symptoms. About 5% to 10% of those infected develop active TB during their lifetimes.

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