New WHO recommendations to prevent tuberculosis aim to save millions of lives

Geneva –  New World Health Organization (WHO) guidance will help countries accelerate efforts to stop people with tuberculosis (TB) infection becoming sick with TB by giving them preventive treatment.

A quarter of the world‘s population is estimated to be infected with TB bacteria. These people are neither sick nor contagious. However, they are at greater risk of developing TB disease, especially those with weakened immunity. Offering them TB
preventive treatment will not only protect them from becoming sick but also cut down on the risk of transmission in the community.  

As we mark World TB Day 2020, the disease remains the world’s top infectious killer. In 2018, 10 million people fell ill with TB worldwide and 1.5 million people lost their lives to this disease.

“COVID-19 is highlighting just how vulnerable people with lung diseases and weakened immune systems can be,“ said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “The world committed to end TB by 2030; improving prevention is key
to making this happen. Millions of people need to be able to take TB preventive treatment to stop the onset of disease, avert suffering and save lives”.

Dr Tedros highlighted the importance to continue efforts to tackle longstanding health problems, including TB during global outbreaks such as COVID-19. At the same time, programmes already in place to combat TB and other major infectious diseases
can be leveraged to make the response to COVID-19 more effective and rapid.

Although some progress has been made towards targets set at the UN high-level Meeting on TB in 2018, TB preventive treatment has been largely neglected. Global leaders committed to ensuring access to TB preventive treatment to at least 24 million contacts
of people with active TB and 6 million people living with HIV by 2022.  To date only a fraction of that target has been reached, with countries putting less than 430,000 contacts and 1.8 million people on TB preventive treatment in 2018.

TB remains the top cause of death among people with HIV. TB preventive treatment works synergistically with antiretroviral therapy to prevent TB and save lives. Reinvigorated efforts by governments, health services, partners, donors and civil society
will be needed to increase access to TB preventive treatment to the levels targeted.

The new consolidated guidelines recommend a range of innovative approaches to scale up access to TB preventive treatment:

  • WHO recommends a scale-up of TB preventive treatment among populations at highest risk including household contacts of TB patients, people living with HIV and other people at risk with lowered” immunity or living in crowded settings.
  • WHO recommends an integration of TB preventive treatment services into ongoing case finding efforts for active TB. All household contacts of TB patients and people living with HIV are recommended to be screened
    for active TB. If active TB is ruled out, they should be initiated on TB preventive treatment.
  • WHO recommends that either a tuberculin skin test  or interferon-gamma release assay (IGRA) be used to test for TB infection. Both tests are helpful to find people more likely to benefit from TB preventive treatment
    but should not become a barrier to scale-up access. Testing for TB infection is not required before starting TB preventive treatment in people living with HIV, and children under 5 years who are contacts of people with active TB.
  • WHO recommends new shorter options for preventive treatment in addition to the widely used 6 months of daily isoniazid. The shorter options that are now recommended range from a 1 month daily regimen of rifapentine plus isoniazid
    to 3 months weekly rifapentine plus isoniazid, 3 months daily rifampicin plus isoniazid, or 4 months of daily rifampicin alone.

“As people around the globe come together to commemorate World TB Day, WHO is calling on governments, affected communities, civil society organizations, health-care providers, donors, partners and the industry to unite forces and step up
the TB response – notably for TB preventive treatment – to ensure no one is left behind,” said Dr Tereza Kasaeva, Director of WHO’s Global TB Programme. “The new WHO guidance shows the way forward for millions to rapidly
access new tools and shorter, safer options for preventive treatment. The time for action is now.”

TB preventive treatment is an affordable intervention that can prevent families from sliding into poverty and preserve the health and economy of whole communities. WHO anticipates that as new and safer drugs come onto the markets, and as prices
fall, it will become a highly-cost effective way to save millions of lives.

 

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

WORK BY WHO AND PARTNERS

WHO works closely with Member States including the US Government and technical and funding partners such as UNITAID to enhance access to shorter TB preventive treatment regimens. UNITAID-supported projects such as IMPAACT4TB and Cap-TB projects
enabled by WHO with partners in Brazil, Cambodia, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania and
Zimbabwe are leading the way. The new treatment options are also now more affordable, thanks to the significant price drop of rifapentine – a key drug – facilitated recently by UNITAID, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria
and global biopharmaceutical company Sanofi, along with forthcoming arrangements underway with generic manufacturers.

MORE ABOUT THE GUIDELINES

The new consolidated WHO guidelines come with an operational handbook to help guide countries step-by-step as they take TB preventive treatment to scale. This includes guidance on how to prioritize and invest from demand creation for TB prevention
to supervision and monitoring of the programme.

The guidelines and operational handbook are also accompanied by an innovative mobile application – Prevent TB –to help health-care workers manage TB preventive treatment in their communities. Its online dashboard allows programme
managers to visualize and monitor data in real time. The application can be customized by countries to suit their specific settings and is currently being adopted in India and Philippines.

WORLD TB DAY

The new guidelines and tools are being released ahead of World TB Day. World TB Day is observed on March 24 each year to raise public awareness and understanding about the world’s deadliest infectious killer – TB and its devastating
health, social and economic impact on people around the world. Under the theme “It’s Time”, the spotlight this year is on urgently accelerating the TB response to save lives and end suffering.

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