Pictured: Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership taking an IGRA test, on World TB Day 2019.
Expanding access to improved testing for latent TB will help those most at risk to get timely and effective treatment.
“Expanding access to testing for latent TB will play a critical role in reaching the ambitious UN targets of putting at least 30 million people on TB preventative treatment by 2022, especially among household contacts of people with TB”, says Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership.
The World Health Organiation estimates that approximately one-quarter of the world’s population has latent TB. Unless they receive the right diagnosis and treatment, around 10% of those will develop the contagious form of the disease – putting themselves, and those around them, at risk.
TB remains the world’s leading infectious killer and, while ending the TB epidemic by 2030 is among the health targets of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, more needs to be done to identify those at risk and treat them. As Ditiu highlights, based on the 2019 WHO Global TB Report “an estimated 10.4 million people fall ill with TB each year; but just 7 million are diagnosed and treated”.
Stop TB Partnership’s Global Drug Facility (GDF) has recently added an IGRA (interferon-gamma release assay) for latent TB infection to its diagnostics catalogue.
Improving access to testing and treatment
Treatments that eliminate latent TB infection before it becomes infectious are available, but accurately diagnosing those who would benefit from them remains a challenge, especially in poorer communities. Most diagnostic tools don’t serve these high burden regions particularly well.
With the commonly used TB skin test, patients have to visit clinics multiple times to get their results and false positives are also common – particularly if an individual has had the BCG vaccination.
In comparison, IGRAs are blood tests that produce a more accurate diagnosis in a single visit, ensuring treatment can be started swiftly. The World Health Organization recognises the vital role that IGRAs play and has endorsed IGRA testing in their guidelines as a critical component of the fight to eradicate TB.
The IGRA tests themselves are not new, but price has historically been a barrier to access – something that Stop TB Partnership’s GDF facility hopes to overcome. “GDF ensures access and helps match demand for TB diagnostics and drugs with funding from donors, governments and non-governmental organisations,” continues Ditui.
By making the IGRA tests both accessible and affordable, GDF aims to level the playing field and ensure that public sector and not for profit organisations operating in low- and middle-income countries can use the very best diagnostic tools and treatment.
By making tests both accessible and affordable, GDF aim to level the playing field.