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The Irish Thoracic Society (ITS) is calling on the government to take decisive action to combat the health, social and economic impact of tuberculosis (TB) and to bring Ireland in line with our European neighbours in the fight against this preventable disease.
The call was made just prior to World TB Day 2020, which took place on Wednesday 24 March.
ITS has joined a global call for accelerated efforts to end TB by 2030 and to mitigate the toll that Covid-19 is taking on TB services worldwide.
The ITS has outlined five key actions that Government needs to take including the appointment of a national TB controller, a national TB screening programme for high-risk groups, investment in contact tracing and surveillance activities, and an education and awareness programme for healthcare professionals and the public (more details below).
As the world continues its battle against another infectious disease, Covid-19, TB remains one of the world’s deadliest infectious killers and is the ninth leading cause of death worldwide. Each day nearly 4,000 people lose their lives to TB – approximately 1.5 million annually – and close to 28,000 people fall ill with this preventable and curable disease. Global efforts to combat TB have saved an estimated 63 million lives since 2000. In Ireland, 267 cases of TB were notified to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre in 2019.
According to the Society, Covid-19 is continuing to divert essential medical resources and attention away from providing life-saving diagnosis, medicine and care to people suffering from TB worldwide. In addition, drug-resistant and multi-drug resistant TB pose a significant threat to gains made, making the fight against TB ever more complex and challenging.
According to Dr Marcus Butler, Consultant Respiratory Physician and Vice-President of the Irish Thoracic Society, Ireland’s highly dedicated but inadequately resourced TB service is struggling to protect the health of the population. This is particularly so for its most vulnerable and socially marginalised communities who are most susceptible to TB – those in the homeless and prison populations, as well as many in our migrant communities.
“Sub-standard and overcrowded living conditions, poor nutrition, drug and alcohol misuse, as well as a weakened immune system due to other illnesses are all factors associated with increased risk of acquiring TB. COVID-19 has worsened these conditions for many, while bringing many more below the poverty line for the first time.
“The likelihood of rising TB cases as a result of the pandemic comes against the backdrop of increased pressure on health services, re-allocation of staffing resources and reduced numbers of people presenting with their symptoms due to Covid-19 restrictions. All of these factors are storing up an unprecedented TB crisis for a resource-starved service on top of an already complex and demanding, albeit largely hidden, public health threat.