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August 09, 2020

TB must not be ignored amidst COVID-19

By providing tuberculosis-TB screening services to patients at fever clinics during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the government has shown its commitment to fighting TB, the world’s most deadly infection.
Free X-rays for respiratory tract infections have been added to the services provided by fever clinics under the plan of the National TB Project, to maintain the country’s achievements in fighting TB.
Our country, which is still among the 30 countries most affected by TB, needs to ensure the continuity of TB services in the time of COVID-19. This includes being proactive to protect the most vulnerable, including protection against economic hardship, isolation, stigma and discrimination.
In this time of crisis, the fear of catching COVID-19 should not deter people in need of timely diagnosis and treatment for TB from accessing health services. Our country was identified as one of a clutch of countries on track to reach the global End TB 2020 milestones.
For the past five years, TB, a respiratory disease, has remained the biggest infectious disease killer because the ‘TB agenda’ consistently became less visible in front of other priorities.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads into high TB burden settings, we must put in place strategies to ease pressure on our health systems and to mitigate disruption in routine health services.
The social distancing and stay-at-home measures make it particularly challenging for TB programmes to provide diagnosis, treatment and care for communities affected by TB.
To ensure no disruption to TB services and to maintain our hard-earned progress against the world’s most deadly infection, the TB programmes will have to identify and rely on alternative options, such as virtual care, digital health and community-monitoring solutions to bring the required services as close as possible to the people and communities affected by TB.
The ministry’s mobile medical teams carried out field trips to diagnose and treat TB patients, reaching areas which were difficult to access, along with factories and prisons.
Enhancing the coverage of preventive treatment is crucial. All household contacts of TB patients should be screened and those at high risk of developing the disease. Preventive treatment should be provided where needed.
The Ministry of Health and Sports alone cannot fight TB. It will take the combined strength of the concerned ministries and departments, international non-governmental organizations, local NGOs, and civil society organizations to rid the country of this contagious disease.

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