President Biden’s chief medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci is warning that the Russian invasion of Ukraine could be “devastating” for tuberculosis control in eastern Europe and will cause a “terrible public health tragedy”
“The war could be devastating, quite frankly” Dr Fauci told The Telegraph.
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He added that “As a public health official, as a scientist, and as an infectious disease expert, I’m very worried about the disruption that has already happened and that will continue.”
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The Telegraph reports: He criticised the “indiscriminate attacks” on the Ukrainians, adding: “Hospitals being moved to cellars, clinics having to close, are going to have a terrible impact on TB and any other diseases – HIV, infectious disease of children.
“[The war] is going to interrupt the vaccine programmes of kids, this is going to be a really terrible public health tragedy – in addition to a terrible tragedy of life lost in war.”
TB remains the second leading infectious killer globally, second only to Covid-19. In 2020 it led to 1.5 million deaths. The WHO has warned that multidrug-resistant TB is a public health crisis and a health security threat.
While TB deaths had decreased since 2005, since the pandemic they have risen. Dr Fauci said this was down to healthcare disruptions, which saw less people diagnosed and therefore not adequately treated.
The WHO said in 2021 that Covid has “reversed years of global progress in tackling tuberculosis”.
Dr Fauci said it’s vital that the scientific community now applies modern technologies to tackle the “ancient disease.”
“We still do not know as much as we need to [about TB]. We need to revitalise what has been a somewhat neglected approach to an ancient disease,” he said.
“We have not used cutting edge technology [on it]. And we have a lot of people who are not interested in the field of TB because there’s been this somewhat inappropriate mindset: ‘It’s been around for a long time and we do have the BCG vaccine’,” he told The Telegraph.
But, he warned, BCG, which has been used for more than a century, has “great limitations”. The vaccine is 70-80 per cent effective against the most severe forms of TB, such as TB meningitis, but is less effective in preventing the form of TB that affects the lungs.
TB is particularly dangerous in southern Africa, Dr Fauci said, where there is a high prevalence of HIV. TB is the leading cause of death in people living with HIV.
Dr Fauci’s comments come after Dr Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s emergencies programme, said this week that Ukrainians are also at heightened risk of coronavirus.
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