On the occasion of the World TB Day commemorated annually on March 24, Alliance of Public Health is addressing Members of Parliament, Government, public authorities, doctors, scientists, international partners and civil society with the urge, in the context of rapid spread of the new coronavirus infection, to pay special attention to people affected by tuberculosis (TB).
“People with TB are one of the populations most vulnerable to COVID-19, with high likelihood of infection and severe complications. That is why we insist they should be provided with prompt and barrier-free access to diagnosing and treatment of coronavirus infection”, stresses Andriy Klepikov, Executive Director of the Alliance.
We welcome recommendations from international and national partners on immediate revision of outpatient treatment protocols aimed at reducing the frequency of patients’ visits to TB facilities and other drug dispensing sites, or using public transport because of their need to travel to healthcare facilities to get medications. At the same time, we urge them to strengthen efforts to raise patients’ awareness about critical importance of continuity of tuberculosis treatment because of the risk of development of drug resistance. In the situation of the global coronavirus pandemic, we all now face new challenges in public health that have drastically changed the world and people’s attitudes. The Alliance is quickly responding to the COVID-19 spread, providing our partners with professional recommendations about adjustment of their operations in the context of the pandemic.
However, during last week alone, twice as many people died of tuberculosis than of COVID-19 during the whole time of the outbreak. According to WHO, tuberculosis annually kills 1.5 million people worldwide, and is one of the top-10 causes of death globally; also, it is the main cause of death among HIV-positive people.
Ukraine today is one of top-20 countries of the world with the highest drug-resistant TB burden. In 2019, almost 6 thousand cases of drug-resistance TB were registered in Ukraine. This type of TB is not susceptible to conventional medications and requires longer and costlier treatment, while the success rate of such a treatment is lower. Last year, more than 25 thousand new and recurrent TB cases were diagnosed in Ukraine; at the same time, according to WHO, about 23% of cases of the disease go unnoticed in our country. The situation is further aggravated by increasing risks of TB spread in the context of fighting, on the territories temporarily uncontrolled by the Government of Ukraine, and the growing number of cases of TB/HIV co-infection. Despite the availability of modern effective medications, last year 3.7 thousand TB patients died, which is an evidence of inadequacy of the Ukrainian healthcare system.
In the recent years, non-government organizations of Ukraine have acquired significant experience in TB response, and we hope that successful cases produced by civil society will eventually be incorporated into the state TB policy. When implementing new methods or practices, Alliance for Public Health always study their effectiveness and create evidence for development of further interventions.
In particular, the Alliance have been able to produce unique practices of detecting TB among key populations, which last year allowed to detect TB in 665 people of key populations, of which 96% then started treatment. Contact screening projects allow detecting 6.5 times more TB cases than the routine work with contacts conducted by the TB service of Ukraine.
Implementation of patient-centered models of care and combining the medical component with social support in 2019 allowed increasing the success rate of treatment of patients with drug-resistant tuberculosis, on the average, to almost 90% (while the official figure for the country is below 45%).
Acting as a coordination center for Ukrainian civil society organizations working with the Global TB Caucus, an international movement of members of parliaments, the Alliance continues providing technical support to the interfaction Parliamentary Platform against Tuberculosis. The new association includes 50 members of the Ukrainian Parliament, and its activities were mentioned by the WHO as a successful example of developing partnership to overcome TB in Compendium of good practices in the implementation of the Tuberculosis Action Plan for the WHO European Region 2016–2020.
The Alliance would like to thank partners and donors, civil society activists and key communities, professional and government organizations for fruitful cooperation in TB response. In the nearest weeks we are going to actively respond to COVID-19 impact on HIV and TB programs. The World TB Day is an opportunity to reflect on the experience and lessons learnt while fighting TB and HIV that could be of use in COVID-19 response, including defending human rights of the people.
In these challenging times — both for our country and the world — we welcome the unprecedented measures against COVID-19 implemented by governments, and truly appreciate the consolidation of efforts and considerable financial contribution to protecting the health of the people and overcoming the pandemic. We are by all means convinced that the humanity will be able to defeat the dangerous coronavirus soon and expect the countries to similarly unite their efforts and resources to get rid of the TB burden!
TB hotline: 0800503080
Government hotline: 1545
Ministry of Health of Ukraine: 0800505201
Public Health Center of the MoH of Ukraine: 0444254354
Ministry of Foreign Affairs: 0442381657