Leave no one behind: Stop TB Partnership launches two new briefs on vulnerable groups

14 December 2016 - Geneva, Switzerland - The Stop TB Partnership today launched two new briefs on TB vulnerable populations, focusing on health care workers, and on PLHIV.

The latest guides add to the compendium of briefs launched in May 2016 which gives practical guidance on how to address the needs of those most vulnerable to TB, who usually have very limited access to diagnosis, treatment and care. The Global Plan to End TB 2016-2020 recognized the needs of key and vulnerable populations and calls for a collective response to protect them from TB, provide them with a cure and involve them as key stakeholders in the fight against the disease.

"Leave no One Behind is the SDGs headline. The Global Plan and End TB Strategy are centered around these concepts. So we need to be serious about it and we need to be very clear on what we mean: when developing a National Strategic Plan for TB, representatives of the people vulnerable to TB should be part of the discussions, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the activities and programmes. These briefs aim to facilitate this and be a ‘go to’ set of tools for rapid orientation. A lot already exists and has been developed for PLHIV and TB, but healthcare workers and their vulnerability to TB has not been on the frontlines. I am happy that we are able to unpack these conversations," said Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership.

Health care workers are at an increased risk of acquiring TB compared to the general population. In low-resource, high-TB-burden settings, occupationally acquired TB is depleting the very workforce fighting the disease on the frontline. Failures in health systems, occupational health services and TB infection control, staffing shortages, supply issues, lack of funding and lack of supervision, are putting the lives of health care workers, their families and those they are tasked with caring for at risk.

"Health care workers are needed to end TB and HIV, therefore they have to be protected from TB and HIV," said Dr Chanel Rossouw, a doctor who recently recovered from occupational TB.

The brief recognizes that this is a group that has been neglected by health care systems and policy makers, and makes the case for more to be done to protect them, before it is too late.

"We were encouraged to see how sharing our own stories broke down stigma, with an ever increasing number of health care workers, students and even members of the general public coming out and sharing their own TB experiences. This is a crucial first step in acknowledging the extent of the problem and providing the care and support that all TB patients need and deserve," said Dr Dalene von Delft, Co-Founder of TB Proof, an organization founded by South African health care workers and students after multiple personal experiences with occupational TB, particularly MDR-TB.

For people living with HIV with TB, factors such as gender, poverty and malnutrition promote delays in diagnosis, present barriers to treatment, and impact patients’ adherence to medication, but the challenges are significantly amplified by the stigma and discrimination associated with both HIV and TB, and the need for multiple, well-integrated health and social services.