Are we forgetting that TB prevention is better than cure?

-Shobha Shukla
Contd from previous issue
Dr Surya Kant said that if we cannot beat the TB bacteria, we can at least make ourselves fitter to fight it. He said that we cannot blame the TB bacteria alone for LTBI. Host immunity is also responsible for it. It is not just about the presence of the bacteria inside the body but also how the body deals with it. Active TB disease results when the body’s resistance mechanism is unable to counteract the bacillary load.
Dr Surya Kant's advice is to focus more on developing the immunity of the contacts of TB patients.
How do we do that?
While conceding that all contacts should be tested for LTBI, he stressed upon the urgent need of awareness campaigns in targeted groups for all contacts of TB patients to take proper nutrition, not smoke or consume alcohol, maintain proper blood sugar levels, do physical activity, meditate to reduce stress and maintain proper hygiene.
These are all proven preventive measures to prevent LTBI from progressing to active TB and should be an integral part of TB care and control, rather than providing just TB preventive treatment. Malnutrition is the bane of TB and LTBI control, and so nutritional support must be provided not only to TB patients, but also to their contacts, he said.
Indonesia harbours the third highest burden of TB (6%) globally. Also an estimated 85 million of the Indonesian population is infected by latent TB.
Dr Erlina Burhan, Head of TB DOTS and MDR-TB at Persahabatan Hospital, Indonesia, and member of Board of Directors of International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) told CNS that: "If Indonesia would like to have TB elimination by 2030, we cannot be just working at the end (treating active TB) but we have to prevent TB by finding people with LTBI - through contact investigation, screening at the community level, screening in high risk groups - and give them TB preventive treatment to prevent LTBI from developing into active TB disease. But as it is difficult to treat 85 million people, right now the government is prioritizing high risk groups such as children under 5 years of age and people living with HIV for TB preventive treatment. But as a clinician, I feel that we need to expand beyond these two groups and also target other risk groups to be screened and treated for LTBI."
Dr Erlina shared that in Indonesia's public health programme the Mantoux tuberculin skin test is being usedEven though, the QuantiFERON - an interferon-gamma release assay (IGRA) test- is a better diagnostic test, it is very costly. So the government is discussing the use of IGRA in future, provided the company reduces its cost.
As for TB preventive treatment, currently a 6 month daily regimen of isoniazid is offered in the government programme. But another 12-dose regimen 3HP (once weekly doses of two drugs- isoniazid and rifapentine for 3 months) could soon become a reality in Indonesia.
Achieving the targets of an 80% reduction in TB incidence from the 2015 level by 2030, would require a 17% annual rate of decline in TB incidence.
This in turn will require substantial reductions in the progression from LTBI to active TB disease. Healthcare interventions that could help to cut the risk of progression from LTBI to active TB disease include new diagnostic tests that are better at predicting who is at risk of progression to active TB disease; more effective drug treatments for people with LTBI; and action on the broader enablers of TB, which include improved nutrition, proper housing, better ventilation for fresh air and sunshine, improve sanitation and better infection control.
(Shobha Shukla is the Managing Editor of CNS (Citizen News Service) and Coordinator, APCAT Media (Asia Pacific regional media network to end TB and tobacco, and prevent NCDs). Follow her on Twitter @shobha1shukla or visit