#TalkTB – Catch up on the Twitter chat for World TB Day

World Tuberculosis Day 2018 (March 24th) is an annual event aiming to raise public awareness around the health, economic and social consequences of this devastating infectious disease, as well as pressing for progress towards the elimination of TB.

In line with this, we hosted a Twitter chat (#TalkTB) on March 21st, where we questioned Madhukar Pai (Professor of Epidemiology at McGill University, Montreal, Canada), Nandita Venkatesan (TB survivor and patient advocate) and Jacob Creswell (Head of the Innovations & Grants team at the Stop TB Partnership) about all things tuberculosis – from diagnosis to social stigma.

The experts dedicated an hour of their time to answering questions, and the impressive number of tweets certainly made the notifications hard to keep up with! We have a look at some of the highlights below:

Stigma and social consequences

We were very fortunate to have Nandita Venkatesan on our panel; a journalist, classical dancer and two-time intestinal TB survivor, actively involved in TB awareness and advocacy, who gave us some great insight.

You can view a selection of the tweets below with topics covering stigma in women, public education and mental health. Some of the stories Nandita tells are both shocking and eye opening, including the case of a woman who got divorced following her diagnosis ith tuberculosis, which raises the question, are the stigma and social consequences around TB are hindering its elimination?

TB treatment            

The topic of drug resistance in TB is a pressing one, and we had some great questions (and answers!) on this. Jacob Creswell, from Stop TB, highlighted the huge burden of drug-resistant tuberculosis, stating that over 600,000 people a year get drug-resistant TB, with many going undetected.

In addition, Nandita highlighted the issues surrounding the side effects of TB treatments, which are plentiful, and some example were volunteered in an insightful tweet from Mary Ann Rodriguez, Medical Director of Austin TB and STD clinics (TX, USA).


Delving into diagnosis

Another key challenge facing tuberculosis is its diagnosis. Although the treatment has challenges, TB can be cured if properly diagnosed; however, there is currently a case-detection gap, with many patients being missed. Our panel highlighted some of the issues currently facing diagnosis, with Jacob commenting on the flaws of sputum microscopy and the issues surrounding pediatric tuberculosis.  Nandita and Madhu also highlighted the lack of a simple diagnostic at the primary care level, and the need for drug-susceptibility testing in patients.

Looking to Leaders

During the recent End TB Summit in New Delhi (India) the Prime Minister of India set ambitious goals for the elimination of tuberculosis, and following a question from Roheena our panel gave their thoughts on this. In addition, as mentioned by Stop TB, this year will see the first ever high-level meeting on TB. With increasing political engagement, can we move towards elimination?

The theme for World TB Day this year focuses on leaders, and we had a great question from the COMDIS-HSD health consortium about the role of leaders beyond heads of state, to which Jacob replied that anyone can be a leader!

Towards elimination

Many of the questions centered around whether the elimination of TB is possible, and what steps could get us there faster. A great question from Health in Myanmar asked what three priority measures are needed to increase the rate of decline in TB incidence, with Madhu and Nandita both highlighting the role of preventative measures for reducing TB cases.

The question of whether we are on track to elimination generated some stark realities from our panel – with Nandita stating she doesn’t believe it’s possible to eliminate TB (using the WHO definition) by 2025, as recently targeted by the Prime Minister in India. In addition, Jacob and Madhu agreed that a ‘paradigm shift’ in our approach to TB will be needed in the coming years, with Madhu adding that increased funding will also be required.

However, Stop TB also gave us an optiomistic outlook, suggesting that setting ambitious goals may be the only way we can make great progress. Moreover as previously mentioned by our panel, and in Madhu’s recent article, there’s currently a policitcal focus on TB as never before, which is certainly promising in the fight for elimination; however, we will have to wait and see whether political leaders step up to these ambitious targets and match their words with deeds.

Thank you again to our panelists for giving up their time to advocate for tuberculosis – we had some fantastic, varied perspectives highlighting some of the challenges facing tuberculosis and its elimination. With World TB Day coming on Saturday (March 24th) it’s an exciting time for TB with increased focus, and hopefully more action, funding and research for this disease in the future.

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