Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This airborne disease mainly affects the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body such as the kidneys, spine, and brain. Despite being preventable and curable, TB remains one of the world’s deadliest diseases, claiming over 1,5 million lives each year. According to estimations, 1,7 billion individuals have been latently infected with TB bacterium in the world. This forms a considerable reservoir of new active TB cases in the future. Therefore, addressing latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI) is pivotal for achieving the END TB Strategy goals of the World Health Organization (WHO).
The NDPHS Expert Group on HIV, Tuberculosis, and Associated Infections (HIV, TB & AI EG) was established to strengthen the control of communicable infections by supporting better prevention, early detection, and person-centered treatment and care. The Partnership aims to reduce the incidence and impact of TB and HIV in the region which is in quite a different situation regarding to TB.
The EG on HIV, TB & AI has identified key challenges that need to be addressed to effectively tackle TB in the partner countries. These challenges include inadequate resources, poor awareness of TB among the general public, a lack of political commitment, and high rates of drug-resistant TB in some of the partner countries. Also, the management and treatment of latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI) have been on agenda during the past year.
One particular issue that the Expert Group has been working on is the impact of TB on migrants. Migrants are at higher risk of developing TB due to high TB incidence in their home country, poor living conditions, inadequate access to healthcare, and the stress of migration. TB among migrants can also pose a risk to the general population, as it can spread to others.
To address this issue, the Expert Group has been advocating for better screening and treatment of TB among migrants. They have also been working to improve access to healthcare and increase awareness of TB among migrant communities. The Finnish website tuberkuloosi.fi provides information about TB in 10+ languages. Such resources are valuable in raising awareness of the disease.
While progress has been made in the fight against TB, there is still much more work to be done and more resources need to be allocated to TB control efforts. This includes funding for research and development of new TB drugs and vaccines, as well as strengthening health systems to ensure that everyone has access to quality TB care.
Additionally, political commitment is needed to ensure that TB is given the attention it deserves. Governments must prioritize TB prevention and treatment and work to raise awareness of the disease among the general public.
The Expert Group on HIV, TB, & AI has been doing important work to tackle the disease, but more needs to be done. We must all work together to increase awareness of TB, improve access to healthcare, and allocate more resources to TB control efforts. Only then we can hope to end the TB epidemic as a public health problem.
Text: Mikko Vauhkonen, Member of the NDPHS Expert Group on HIV, TB, and Associated Infections, Finnish Lung Health Association (FILHA)