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Caleb Zuleta (ALN).- The World Tuberculosis Day was celebrated this Tuesday, and the World Health Organization sent out an alert. Although the world is looking out for the coronavirus pandemic. Even so, the WHO recalled that tuberculosis continues to be “the deadliest infectious disease in the world. In 2018, 10 million people became ill with TB and 1.5 million people lost their lives worldwide.”

The WHO recalled that this March 24th was the World Tuberculosis Day. It must be written in capital letters. Due to the lethality of the disease, “A quarter of the world‘s population is estimated to be infected with TB bacteria,” the World Health Organization stated. “These people are neither sick nor contagious. However, they are at greater risk of developing TB disease, especially those with weakened immunity “

This indicator alarms. A quarter of the world´s population. But it also alarms that 10 million became ill and 1.5 million died in 2018. And now the coronavirus comes, attacking the lungs. There is another problem here, because the coronavirus “is highlighting just how vulnerable people with lung diseases and weakened immune systems can be“, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, in an official report.

There is a global commitment to end tuberculosis by 2030. “Improving prevention is key to making this happen. Millions of people need to be able to take TB preventive treatment to stop the onset of disease, avert suffering and save lives”, Ghebreyesus said.

But what is happening? Although “Global leaders committed to ensuring access to TB preventive treatment to at least 24 million contacts of people with active TB and 6 million people living with HIV by 2022.”, up to date only a fraction of that goal has been reached: in 2018, countries had granted TB preventive treatment to less than 430,000 contacts and 1.8 million people.”

The Director General highlighted “the importance to continue efforts to tackle longstanding health problems, including TB during global outbreaks such as COVID-19. At the same time, programmes already in place to combat TB and other major infectious diseases can be leveraged to make the response to COVID-19 more effective and rapid”.

WHO pointed out that “TB remains the top cause of death among people with HIV. TB preventive treatment works synergistically with antiretroviral therapy to prevent TB and save lives. Reinvigorated efforts by governments, health services, partners, donors and civil society will be needed to increase access to TB preventive treatment to the levels targeted”.

To this end, WHO launches new guidelines in order to “scaling access up to preventive treatment” for the disease:

WHO recommends a scale-up of TB preventive treatment among populations at highest risk such as household contacts of TB patients, people living with HIV and other people at risk with lowered” immunity or living in crowded settings.

The WHO Director-General underlined ““the importance to continue efforts to tackle longstanding health problems, including TB during global outbreaks such as COVID-19”.

WHO recommends an integration of TB preventive treatment services into ongoing case finding efforts for active TB. All household contacts of TB patients and people living with HIV are recommended to be screened for active TB. If active TB is ruled out, they should be initiated on TB preventive treatment

WHO recommends that either a tuberculin skin test or interferon-gamma release assay (IGRA) be used to test for TB infection. Both tests are helpful to find people more likely to benefit from TB preventive treatment but should not become a barrier to scale-up access. Testing for TB infection is not required before starting TB preventive treatment in people living with HIV, and children under 5 years who are contacts of people with active TB.

WHO recommends new shorter options for preventive treatment in addition to the widely used 6 months of daily isoniazid. The shorter options that are now recommended range from a 1 month daily regimen of rifapentine plus isoniazid to 3 months weekly rifapentine plus isoniazid, 3 months daily rifampicin plus isoniazid, or 4 months of daily rifampicin alone.”