Around the world, there are 1.8 billion people who are living with tuberculosis and about 37.9 million people are living with HIV. These two diseases make up the most deadly infectious diseases on earth. According to the WHO, 10 million new people are infected with tuberculosis every year, claiming about 1.3 million people, who die because of the disease annually.
The two infectious diseases have a unique interplay, where tuberculosis is the most common cause of death for people living with HIV. Both diseases reduce the immune system, leaving people vulnerable to other infections and health risks. The countries worst affected by tuberculosis are some of the world’s poorest, with India, Indonesia and Nigeria topping the list.
In recent years organizations such as the Stop TB partnerships and UNAIDS have produced remarkable drops in infections and deaths from these diseases, saving more than 50 million lives since the year 2000. But this encouraging progress is being threatened by a new threat for people living with TB, HIV or both.
TB, HIV, and COVID-19
The global spread of the COVID-19 virus has presented a new threat to people with TB and/or HIV. The virus is most deadly for those with weakened immune systems or lung damage. Tuberculosis is an infection of the body that damages the lungs when it moves from its latent (dormant) state to active Tuberculosis.
Every day Tuberculosis claims roughly 4000 lives, and global TB-HIV programs are fearing the novel coronavirus could increase this rate. Because many people living with infectious diseases live in developing countries with limited public health programs, fears exist that COVID-19 could have a disproportionate impact on this at-risk population.
TB and HIV programs worldwide are now issuing specific guidance to protect vulnerable people and ensure the gains made against the diseases is not lost during the pandemic. The Stop TB Partnership, a global network of NGO’s dedicated to fighting Tuberculosis, provide advice for patients and public health programs alike.
Advice for people living with TB and/or HIV
Recommendations for people living with TB are generally more strict versions of the WHO guidelines for everyone else. Social distancing and isolation, the use of masks, good hygiene, and strict adherence to existing TB treatment are recommended for people living with Tuberculosis.
For people with HIV, it is crucial to continue their treatment, as it ensures their immune-system remains strong, allowing their body to fight the virus as normal. People who are not in treatment could have a compromised immune system and are at greater risk of infection of both TB and COVID-19.
If anyone fears they might have one or either diseases, the advice is to contact your national health system who can provide testing and treatment.