The theme of World TB Day is to Unite to end TB: leave no one behind. The communities affected by TB are also ones where tropical diseases like onchocerciasis and malaria are endemic. A successful strategy to control one disease should ideally be “united” with all basic primary health care interventions, thereby truly leaving no one behind.
While the causative agents differ between TB and tropical diseases such as malaria, lymphatic filariasis and Dengue, control of these diseases shares a common goal – “an urgent need to develop new vaccines for HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, as well as for respiratory syncytial virus and those chronic and debilitating (mostly parasitic) infections known as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).” In addition to prevention, there is also need for integrated “treatment pipelines directed at NTDs, Malaria, tuberculosis (TB), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/AIDS,” according to Asada.
There is also a need for integrated primary health care (PHC) programming. In the Journal of Infectious Diseases. Simon reports on linkages showing that, “Recent research suggests that NTDs can affect HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), and malaria disease progression. A combination of immunological, epidemiological, and clinical factors can contribute to these interactions and add to a worsening prognosis for people affected by HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria.”
The possibility of integrating directly observed treatment (DOT) for TB treatment into community health worker (CHW)/PHC programs that addressed malaria treatment and onchocerciasis control was tested by the Tropical Disease Research Program (TDR) some years ago. CHWs in a few of the study sites were able to successfully include DOT for TB in their community duties, but in other sites community and health worker fears about stigma inhibited action.
TB, malaria and NTDs are among the conditions referred to as the infectious diseases of poverty. We will not eliminate poverty by tackling these diseases one-by-one. A “United” and integrated approach from national to community level is needed.