At the 71st session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee Meeting for the Western Pacific, being held virtually from 6-9 October, The Union published a statement highlighting how COVID-19 related lockdown measures are creating barriers in accessing comprehensive tuberculosis (TB) services.
Early diagnosis, contact tracing, initiation of TB treatment, uninterrupted treatment, follow-up, side-effects management, and TB care are all being affected by COVID-19 related lockdown measures. Since Asia Pacific is home to 62 percent of the global estimate of people with TB, The Union urged Member States to outline the steps they will take to prioritise the fight against TB and to ensure that the End TB strategy targets will be met.
Health services, including national programmes, should be actively engaged in ensuring an effective and rapid response to COVID-19 for everyone, while ensuring that TB services are maintained, hence avoiding a reversal in progress made in TB prevention and care in recent years.
The Union also asked Member States to ensure an uninterrupted supply of medicines and healthcare services to people living with non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and TB and HIV, including education and counselling on healthy eating, avoiding alcohol, keeping physically active, safeguarding mental health, and promoting cessation services to quit tobacco.
Tobacco use is a common risk factor for NCDs, active TB disease, latent TB infection and COVID-19. People with NCDs, and more specifically tobacco smoking, are more at risk of developing severe COVID-19 disease and more serious outcomes, including hospital admission and death.
With 600 million tobacco smokers in the Asia Pacific region, who are being aggressively targeted by the tobacco industry, The Union urged Member States to make effective implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) as a means to be vigilant and safeguard against tobacco industry interference.