Denying IPT to people-with latent TB is a human rights violation

Denying IPT to people-with latent TB is a human rights violation

"In Lesotho, Isoniazid Preventive Therapy (IPT) to prevent latent TB infection from becoming active TB disease, is not available for ordinary citizens but only for health workers. Those people who have latent TB infection have a right to protect themselves and access IPT services to prevent latent TB from becoming active TB disease. I consider these people have a right to get IPT. Everybody has a right to health, when it comes to TB prevention" said Maketekete Alfred Thotolo, Treatment Literacy & Advocacy Coordinator, Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), Lesotho, who also represents AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA). Alfred was speaking to this Key Correspondent on the sidelines of pre-conference sessions before the 40th Union World Conference on Lung Health opens in Cancun, Mexico this week (3-7 December 2009).

The Global TB/HIV Working Group of the Stop TB Partnership has clearly stated that: IPT works, IPT is safe, and IPT works with ART or by itself.

TB is a major cause of illness and death in people living with HIV, even in those taking antiretroviral therapy. TB could be prevented in millions of people infected with both HIV and TB through the use of IPT. IPT is an important intervention for preventing and reducing active TB in communities affected by HIV - preventing active TB can prevent millions of people from being infected in the community and in health care services.

IPT is safe and effective and the treatment lasts for 6-9 months. It is only given to people who have confirmed latent TB infection (not to be given to those with active TB disease). Effective IPT treatment reduces the development of active TB disease in 40-60% of patients.

Despite of the potential public health outcomes of using IPT effectively in high burden TB countries, and IPT being one of the key interventions recommended by WHO in 1998 to reduce the burden of TB in people living with HIV, the uptake of IPT has been very low. Clearly there is a need to mobilize TB-HIV affected communities and other stakeholders to integrate IPT as part of the package of health services.

Alfred is possibly right on-spot: everybody has a right to health - and this includes the right to access IPT services to prevent latent TB infection from becoming active TB disease. It also means increasing TB screening in the communities so that people go for TB test to ascertain whether they have latent TB or active TB disease or no TB at all. IPT advocacy boosts the effort behind scaling up TB screening among people living with HIV - so that appropriate services can be provided and this does include IPT if the person has latent TB. Is denying IPT and putting people at risk of developing active TB disease,not a human rights violation?

Integrating IPT services for TB prevention doesn't mean upping the cost at country level, possibly. A 2007 World Bank research report "The Economic Benefit of Global Investments in Tuberculosis Control" found that 22 countries with the world’s highest numbers of TB cases could earn significantly more than they spend on TB diagnosis and treatment if they signed onto a global plan to sharply reduce the numbers of TB-related deaths. Highly affected African countries could gain up to 9 times their investments in TB control. When the economic benefits of effective TB care and control are estimated to be greater than the cost, governments shouldn't delay improving TB responses by preventing TB in those who have latent TB effectively.

After all, Alfred is right: health is a fundamental human right and this includes right to have IPT for those who are eligible for it.