Coronavirus cripples fight against another pandemic: tuberculosis

Paris | The COVID-19 pandemic could miss the opportunity to end the “modern tragedy” of tuberculosis, experts in this respiratory disease warn Monday.

“Tuberculosis remains the most deadly infectious disease, even though it is preventable and we know how to cure it,” laments Lucica Ditiu, executive secretary of the Stop TB Partnership, in the annual report of this international organization.

Programs intended to improve access to diagnosis and treatment for tuberculosis, which kills more than 1.4 million people a year, are structurally lacking in funding, at a time when the fight against the new coronavirus is benefiting from unsuccessful mobilization. precedent, underlines the report.

There are 48 vaccines against COVID-19 in clinical trial phase, “all developed in less than a year”, while “for tuberculosis, for several years, we have only had one vaccine in phase d. ‘test on humans’, which will not be marketed before 2027, observes Lucica Ditiu.

A vaccine against tuberculosis has been around since the 1920s, BCG, but the degree of protection against pulmonary forms of the disease is only about 50%.

At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic risks undermining the progress made in recent years in curbing the spread of tuberculosis.

Many countries where tuberculosis is endemic “still use outdated policies, practices and treatments”, also points out Lucica Ditiu.

About 40% of the 37 countries analyzed in the report are still treating the resistant forms of the disease (against which the usual anti-tuberculosis drugs are not effective) with obsolete injectable drugs, long and painful treatments and of uncertain effectiveness.

Resistant tuberculosis also remains underdiagnosed, with only 5,500 new cases diagnosed each year in children out of an estimated 30,000.

“We must do better,” said Maxime Lunga, national coordinator of the Stop Tuberculosis Partnership in the Democratic Republic of Congo, referring to a “modern tragedy” which “kills more than 4,000 every day”.

Researchers also announced Monday in the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases the launch of a study to “better understand how to avoid and manage the double scourge” of tuberculosis patients infected with the coronavirus.

While there is an established link between COVID-19 mortality and tuberculosis – both of which affect the lungs – few studies have been conducted on how the two diseases interact.

“The current figures of people dying of tuberculosis and COVID-19, or co-infected, are the consequences of broken promises” in terms of investment in public health, judge Grania Brigden, director of the tuberculosis department of the ‘International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease.

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