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WHO calls on European clinicians to ‘remain vigilant about TB’

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Health professionals must remain vigilant about tuberculosis, even in low-incidence settings, the World Health Organization has warned.

The international body also called for “bold actions” to tackle the respiratory disease, after latest figures indicated that progress on eliminating TB in Europe were falling behind schedule.

“Remaining vigilant about TB even in low-incidence settings is important”

Andrea Ammon

The number of new TB patients has been decreasing at an average rate of 4.3% yearly in the last decade, according to a report published today by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the WHO Regional Office for Europe.

Despite being the fastest decline in the world, the trend is insufficient to achieve the WHO’s target of ending the TB epidemic by 2030, as set out in 2015 in its End TB Strategy and sustainable development goals.

ECDC director Dr Andrea Ammon said: “Remaining vigilant about TB even in low-incidence settings is important due to the potential resurgence of this airborne disease, especially in light of increased population mobility and of multidrug-resistant TB.”

She added: “New technologies to aid investigations of cross-border outbreaks of multidrug-resistant TB, such as whole genome sequencing, are key in curbing transmission in the European Union/European Economic Area.”

The WHO’s new report – titled Tuberculosis surveillance and monitoring in Europe 2018 – has been released ahead of World Tuberculosis Day, which this year calls on global leaders to accelerate efforts to end TB once and for all.

Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, said: “It is not enough to ‘walk’ towards ending TB, as this way we would arrive too late for too many people. We need to ‘leap forward’ and invest now for individual benefits and societal returns.

“We need to revamp political commitment at all levels to achieve tangible and immediate results that change and save the lives of all those people suffering from TB today and ensure a TB-free world for our children tomorrow,” she added.

The WHO highlighted low detection and inadequate treatment of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) as the “major drivers” of the epidemic in Europe. It noted that latest data indicated that one in four MDR-TB cases was not detected in the region and that treatment success was still only around 55% in 2016.

Meanwhile, it warned that he spread of extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) was an “additional threat” to ending TB in the WHO European region. Countries detected 5,000 XDR-TB cases in 2016 in the region, but on average only one in three of these patients was cured.

In the European Union/European Economic Area (EU/EEA), the rate of notified MDR-TB cases has remained unchanged since 2012, at 0.3 per 100 000 population.

However, the proportion of XDR-TB cases among MDR-TB cases increased from 13.9% to 20.6% in the same period. Treatment success rates for both MDR-TB and XDR-TB remain low.

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