WHO issues ethics guidance to protect rights of tuberculosis patients

Patients in a tuberculosis center in South Africa
Patients in a tuberculosis center in South Africa. Courtesy Photo/Getty images.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued new ethics guidelines for the implementation of the “End TB Strategy.” The guidelines released as countries commemorate World Tuberculosis on March 22, will help them to adhere to ethics standards to protect rights of all those affected.

Tuberculosis (TB), the world’s top infectious disease killer, claims 5,000 lives each day. WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan said in a statement that her organization is determined to overcome the stigma, discrimination and other barriers that prevent so many people from obtaining the services they so badly need.

In Uganda, Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV/AIDS remain major public health problems. Ministry of Health statistics indicated that HIV is the leading risk factor for development of tuberculosis (TB) and TB is the leading cause of death among people with HIV/AIDS.

The HIV prevalence in Uganda is estimated at 7.3percent and approximately 50-60 percent of TB patients are also co-infected with HIV.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) places a lot of emphasis on delivering integrated TB/HIV services to effectively control the dual TB and HIV epidemics. The World TB day for Uganda is being commemorated at Tororo Stadium under the theme “Ending TB”

According to WHO, Poverty, malnutrition, poor housing and sanitation, compounded by other risk factors such as HIV, tobacco, alcohol use and diabetes, can put people at heightened risk of TB and make it harder for them to access care.

More than a third (4.3 million) of people with TB go undiagnosed or unreported, some receive no care at all and others access care of questionable quality.

The new WHO ethics guidance addresses contentious issues such as, the isolation of contagious patients, the rights of TB patients in prison, discriminatory policies against migrants affected by TB, among others.

It emphasizes five key ethical obligations for governments, health workers, care providers, nongovernmental organizations, researchers and other stakeholders to provide patients with the social support they need to fulfill their responsibilities and refrain from isolating TB patients before exhausting all options to enable treatment adherence and only under very specific conditions.

Dr Mario Raviglione, Director, WHO Global TB Programme says protecting human rights, ethics and equity are principles which underpin WHO’s End TB Strategy. He says the guidelines aim at identifying the ethical predicaments faced in TB care delivery, and highlights key actions that can be taken to address them.

World TB Day according to WHO is an opportunity to mobilize political and social commitment for further progress in efforts to end TB.

Meanwhile the marking of World TB day comes at the time when World Health Organization is reporting decreasing funding to the TB programs which says could affect the ending TB strategy.

The funding required for a full response to the global TB epidemic in low- and middle-income countries was estimated at US$ 8.3 billion in 2016. WHO says based on reporting by countries, US$ 6.6 billion was available for TB prevention, diagnosis and treatment in 2016, leaving a funding gap of almost USD 2 billion.