Simple measures like wearing face masks and maintaining social distance, that is among the must follow protocols to check spread of COVID-19, can also prove most effective in preventing the spread of tuberculosis, say healthcare professionals. As we observe World Tuberculosis Day on March 24, they stressed the need for deploying the same tactics that proved successful in tackling Covid-19 pandemic. Experts also underlined the need to invest in creating public awareness on TB.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on governments and other agencies involved in healthcare to increase investments into resources, support, care, and spread of awareness information. WHO stated that for the first time in over two decades, there is a possible reversal in the fight against TB.
Though 66 million lives were saved since 2000, an increase in TB related deaths was noticed in 2020, especially among the low-income and vulnerable populations.
Every year, March 24 is commemorated as the World Tuberculosis Day to enhance awareness on this preventable and treatable disease. On this day in 1883, Robert Koch announced the discovery of TB bacteria which opened a way towards diagnosis and curing this disease.
India is home to more than 25 per cent of the global TB burden; and each year, more than 400,000 lives are lost in the country to this deadly ailment. According to WHO, there are more than 10 million active TB cases in India.
Tuberculosis is caused due to under-nourishment, HIV, alcohol, smoking, and diabetes. This ailment disproportionately affects the financially marginalised sections of the society, and the stigma associated with this disease lead to underreporting and underdiagnosis.
Globally, TB incidence is falling by about 2 per cent every year and between 2015 and 2020, the cumulative reduction was 11 per cent. This was over half way to the End TB Strategy milestone of 20 per cent reduction between 2015 and 2020. Ending the TB epidemic by 2030 is among the health targets of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“Ending tuberculosis requires a concerted action plan by all sectors. Covid-19 pandemic and measures taken to stop its spread indicate that infectious diseases can be prevented from transmitting by using a simple instrument like face masks. This simple yet most effective means is best suited to stop a deadly ailment like tuberculosis from spreading to one another. I am personally in favor of mandating or encouraging people to continue wearing masks while in crowded areas which could help in numerous ways beyond ending the current global healthcare crisis,” said Dr. Rohit Reddy Pathuri, Consultant Pulmonologist, Century Hospital.
Dr. Vishal Kumar Chitikeshi, Consultant Pulmonologist, KIMS Hospitals is of the view that deploying tactics that were successful in tackling Covid-19 pandemic in the fight against tuberculosis could be a great idea.
“For that to happen, India needs to invest into spreading awareness on the means to prevent spread of infection from one individual to the order or from one section to the order. And this transmission can be stopped by ensuring physical distancing, and ensuring infected individuals wear masks while in public spaces.
“It is best advised, family members and others who come in close contact with TB patients must also wear masks while meeting other unsuspecting people. The Indian government and all bodies associated with healthcare must consider the idea of distributing masks for free, and such steps will ensure tuberculosis is contained efficiently across the country,” he said.
According to Dr. Sudhir Prasad, Consultant Pulmonologist, Aware Gleneagles Global Hospital, there is constant need to spread awareness about the problem and educate people on how the risk can be reduced.
“A large percentage of poor people consume tobacco, a leading cause of TB. This disease remains one of the world’s deadliest infectious killers and alcohol, around 4 lakh people every year die due to TB, which is a preventable, curable disease.”
Dr. Aditya Vadan, Consultant Pulmonologist, SLG Hospitals, believes that Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of early diagnosis and treatment in time to ensure cure.
“New and emerging diagnostic techniques give rapid and ultraprecise results compared to the traditional sputum test. Instant case notification helps in better case tracking and contact monitoring, and through these India can ensure prevention of the spread of tuberculosis to a great extent. TB skin tests and TB blood tests are among the most prominent tests to ascertain infection positivity among victims,” he said.