The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is calling for urgent investment in resources, support, care, and information for the fight against tuberculosis (TB), as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic reverses gains made against one of the world’s deadliest infections.
In a message ahead of World Tuberculosis Day, PAHO said on a daily basis, more than 70 people die and 800 fall ill from TB in the Americas including the Caribbean.
It said while efforts to combat the disease have saved more than 1.2 million lives in the region since 2000, yearly deaths have increased by an estimated 3,000 in 2020 due to interruptions in essential services.
“People with TB are among the most marginalized and vulnerable in society, and face barriers to accessing life-saving care,” said Marcos Espinal, PAHO’s Director for Communicable Diseases and Environmental Determinants of Health.
“All necessary steps must be taken to fully restore TB services disrupted by the pandemic, especially for the most vulnerable. Investing more in TB will save millions of lives, including children.”
PAHO said an estimated 18,300 children aged 15 years and under live with TB in the Americas, yet more than half lack access to diagnosis and treatment services.
It said COVID-19 has also had a disproportionate impact on children and adolescents with TB, leading to increased transmission in the household, a reduction in active surveillance, lack of access to health services, and limited follow-up treatment.
World Tuberculosis Day will be observed under the theme “Invest to End TB. Save Lives”.
This week, the World Health Organization (WHO) released updated guidelines for the management of TB in children and adolescents. They include recommendations for expanded diagnostic testing and treatment, medicines to treat drug resistant-TB in children, and new models of decentralized and integrated care to improve access to care and preventive treatment closer to home.
“Children and adolescents with TB are lagging behind adults in access to prevention and care,” said Dr Tereza Kasaeva, Director of WHO’s Global TB Program, adding “the WHO guidelines are a game-changer for children and adolescents, helping them access diagnosis and care sooner, leading to better outcomes and cutting transmission”.
PAHO said although 66 million lives around the world have been saved since 2000, TB deaths increased in 2020 for the first time in over a decade.
It said increased investment in TB services and research will accelerate the recovery of gains against the disease. Global spending on TB diagnostics, treatment, and prevention in 2020 was less than half of the global target of US$ 13 billion annually by 2022.
According to WHO, an additional US$ 1.1 billion per year is needed for research and development.