A new report released by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) shows that between 2000 and 2015, the rate of tuberculosis-related deaths and incidents decreased significantly in the Americas. The Caribbean region specifically showed the best reduction rates, said an official of the health research organization.
“The Caribbean has a relatively low prevalence and incidence of tuberculosis, and a significant number of member states have low levels of morbidity and are towards elimination,” said Massimo Ghidinelli, a unit chief at PAHO. “What we are observing is that they are ahead of curve when comes to tuberculosis.”
He said in 12 countries, predominantly in the Eastern Caribbean, there were fewer than 10 cases of tuberculosis per 100,000 people, and were enroute to eliminating the disease in the region ahead of its time.
The region of the Americas overall has seen one of the biggest improvements in tackling the disease, with Caribbean countries leading that fight. He said that new cases of tuberculosis were down by 37 percent, and deaths related to the disease were 25 percent fewer.
“This is definitely a great achievement of public health in the region and this also allows the region to meet the millennium goals ahead of time,” said Ghidinelli.
But the unit chief explained that another threshold goal may not see similar success. Ghidinelli said there needs to be an increased effort in the Caribbean to see those numbers continue declining.
“If we look at the same trajectory of the Sustainable Development Goals agenda, which is ending, we see how there’s a decline and not enough is being done to scale up implementation of technology and increase investment,” he added.
But he strongly believes Caribbean leaders are strongly invested in improving those numbers, and noted that the recent United Nations high level meeting on ending tuberculosis, displayed an eagerness from many government leaders.
“The high level meeting had 63 registered heads of state, and we had significant representatives from the region who expressed seeing resolutions and commitment,” said Ghidinelli.
For hundreds of years the global community has both feared and defiantly combated the epidemic, and have successfully controlled it with vaccines and modern medical technologies. But its existence still presents a challenge, particularly in poorer countries around the world, where there is a lack of access to adequate public health, and beneficial treatment, according to Ghidinelli.
“Tuberculosis is one of the oldest diseases affecting humanity, and it is a highly contagious disease and is often the leading cause of death in people living with HIV,” he said.
He added that the Bacillus Calmette–Guérin vaccine or BCG, the most common vaccine for tuberculosis treatment, does not have a 100 percent effectiveness rate and new vaccines will need to emerge to tackle it head on.
“BCG doesn’t have a high protective capacity, but it can help prevent and limit exposure,” he said. “But we are working on developing new vaccines and tools.”
He also indicated that latent tuberculosis infection — a microbacteria agent that can turn into full-blown tuberculosis if activated — poses a great risk to eradication because it often goes undetected and lives dormantly.
“A significant number of people have been exposed to this microbacteria and as a result have the latent infection,” he said. “The infections latency remains present in the body with no symptoms, and can stay in the body forever, but there are triggers that can activate it,” he said.
Getting ahead on these triggers are one of the many concerns of PAHO and the world medical community, and the tools these countries need to utilize to combat it, said Ghidinelli.