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What you should know about TB in relation to COVID-19

AS the world comes together to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to ensure that essential services and operations for dealing with long-standing health problems continue to protect the lives of people with TB and other diseases or health conditions.

Health services, including national programmes to combat TB, need to be actively engaged in ensuring an effective and rapid response to COVID-19 while ensuring that TB services are maintained.

“During the COVID-19 response, patient-centered outpatient and community-based care should be strongly preferred over hospital treatment for TB patients. This is important to reduce opportunities for transmission,” said the World health Organisation (WHO) Tanzania TB expert, Dr Bhavin Jani.

He further added that adequate stocks of TB medicines should be provided to all patients to take home to ensure treatment completion without having to visit treatment centres unnecessarily to collect medicines.

As the world battles COVID-19 pandemic, resources may be skewed towards responding to the pandemic therefore appropriate planning and monitoring are essential to ensure that procurement and supply of TB medicines and diagnostics are not interrupted.

WHO said in an information note that it is monitoring medicine supply at the global level, while the Global Fund, the Stop TB Partnership Global Drug Facility (GDF), USAID, UNITAID, a global health initiative, and other donors support countries to secure adequate and sustainable supplies of TB medicines drugs and diagnostics.

“Countries are advised to place their orders for 2020 delivery as soon as possible given anticipated delays in transport and delivery mechanisms,” said Dr Jani.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises Member States that are leading the response to the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic all measures should be implemented to prevent any stigmatisation or discrimination of people affected by either of these conditions, through respect for their confidentiality and protection of their human rights.

Knowledge about COVID-19 is evolving, and its relationship with other diseases, including TB is important. One of the major questions is whether people with TB likely to be at increased risk of COVID-19 infection, illness and death.

According to WHO people ill with COVID-19 and TB show similar symptoms such as cough, fever and difficulty breathing. Both diseases attack primarily the lungs and although both biological agents transmit mainly via close contact, the incubation period from exposure to disease in TB is longer, often with a slow onset.

“While experience on COVID-19 infection in TB patients remains limited, it is anticipated that people ill with both TB and COVID-19 may have poorer treatment outcomes, especially if TB treatment is interrupted,” said Dr Jani. According to Dr Jani TB patients should take precautions as advised, stay protected from COVID-19 and continue their TB treatment as prescribed.

To make sure that TB patients continue getting their treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic WHO advises health authorities, health facilities and medical practitioners maintain support to essential TB services, including during emergencies such as COVID-19.

The global TB community with its network of national programmes, partners and civil society stand in solidarity with those battling COVID-19.

Many agencies and donors supporting the TB response worldwide such as the Global Fund, US Agency for International Development, UNITAID, Stop TB Partnership and The Union (among others) have offered their support to those affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

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