Tuberculosis (TB) remains one of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases.
In 2019, an estimated 10 million people fell ill with TB, including 1.2 million children, resulting in 1.4 million deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). TB is one of the top 10 causes of death, and the leading cause from a single infectious agent.
While there were cases in all countries and age groups, two-thirds of the total cases occurred in eight countries – India, Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh and South Africa.
Multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) remains a public health crisis. According to WHO, a global total of 206,030 people with multidrug- or rifampicin-resistant TB (MDR/RR-TB) were detected and notified in 2019, a 10 per cent increase from 186,883 in 2018.
What is tuberculosis (TB)?
- An infectious disease caused by the bacteria, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, it commonly affects the respiratory system.
- This can result in a range of symptoms such as coughing, chest pain, weight loss and weakness, fever and night sweats.
- The bacteria are transmitted from person to person via droplets from the throat and lungs of people with the active respiratory disease.
Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB)
While tuberculosis is treatable with a six-month course of antibiotics, in some countries the bacteria are becoming increasingly drug-resistant, creating major concerns among health workers.
Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) is a form of TB caused by bacteria that do not respond to the two most powerful, first-line, anti-TB drugs.
Infectious diseases physician and Deputy Program Director, Health Security, Dr Suman Majumdar said, despite recent promising developments, the current available tools for TB diagnosis, treatment and prevention are not adequate to reach the goal of universal access to TB care and zero TB deaths.
“In the case of MDR-TB, patients living with this disease can no longer be ignored as untreated; this disease can kill and spread to others. Cure is possible, but current treatment involves an excruciating two-year ordeal of swallowing 20 pills a day and receiving a painful injection each day for more than eight months – the side-effects are terrible.
“Treatment needs to be coupled with close patient support and delivery of care close to their homes and livelihoods. We urgently need enhanced preventative measures, universal access to diagnostics (especially children) and a safer, shorter treatment for DR-TB.”
“What we do at Burnet is address major and complex global health issues and nothing is more in that realm than TB in terms of its burden and its impact on people, particularly its impact on the poor,” Dr Majumdar said.
“The response to TB at Burnet really deploys the unique skills that we have, from providing on-the-ground assistance and support, to training and building capacity, to conducting research which translates to inform policy, and working with partnerships at global and national level to drive an agenda of change.
“Unfortunately TB has been around since the beginning of human history and it’s still a devastating and important public health and development issue and disease.
“I’m pleased that Burnet is trying to address it, because it does need different thinking and different approaches.
“That’s something our team has been trying to bring, from care and delivery at individual level, to community level, to the national level, and also hopefully to the international and global stage as well.”
TB Response during COVID-19
Burnet staff in Daru, Western Province, PNG continued to work during COVID-19 towards improving patient outcomes through educating and empowering the TB-affected community, counselling, contact tracing, screening of close contacts including referring children aged under 5 years for preventative therapy, and reporting on testing results.
Burnet’s Dr Suman Majumdar is part of this initiative which aims to create closer connections between the broad range of policy makers, clinicians, patients, scientists and public health workers working for tuberculosis control and elimination in our region.
For more information visit the TB Forum website.