The HSE hopes to reduce cases of tuberculosis in Ireland by 80% by 2030 and deaths by 90% under an ambitious new strategy announced on Friday.
Last year, there was a “slight increase” in TB cases in Ireland to 222, which the HSE said is equivalent to a rate of 4.3 per 100,000 of the population although still below levels seen before the pandemic. There was also an increase in cases where the condition is resistant to the standard treatments.
The plan is in line with World Health Organisation targets, HSE Health Protection Service director Dr Éamonn O’Moore said. “TB is a priority programme within the HSE Health Protection Strategy. TB is an important infectious disease, which is still causing problems in Ireland and around the world,” he said.
“For the vast majority of people diagnosed, TB is treatable and curable.” Early detection helps patients and reduces risks of transmission to others, he added.
“Our strategy aims to tackle TB in Ireland during this current decade delivering on WHO targets in the End TB Strategy to reduce TB incidence by 80%, TB deaths by 90%, and to eliminate catastrophic costs for TB-affected households by 2030,” he pledged.
Some groups are at higher risk of catching TB although the disease can affect anyone. This includes people in precarious living situations such as being homeless or in prison. It can also include people born in countries with a high rate of infection.
However, Dr O’Moore said: “Not everyone at risk of TB realises this.” The HSE is now working with community groups to raise awareness, and improve treatment access taking into account cultural, social and economic issues.
“Work on TB is not simply about healthcare but also recognises the need for wider supports to people directly and indirectly impacted by TB,” he said.
The BCG vaccines against TB have not been given to children in Ireland since 2015.previously reported
In the HPSC Tuberculosis in Ireland” report, published on Thursday, they found "no significant increase in paediatric TB rates observed yet despite absence of BCG vaccine".
However, the report did find an increase in multidrug-resistant TB (MDR) and pre-extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (pre-XDR) TB during 2021 and 2022. MDR-TB does not respond to at least isoniazid and rifampicin, the two most powerful anti-TB drugs, the WHO says.
Pre-XDR-TB is additionally resistant to treatment by fluoroquinolone. WHO statistics show resistance to drug-treatment leads to about 180,000 deaths annually globally.
Meanwhile, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders called on governments and donors to speed up access to new, shorter, safer and more effective treatments for these forms of TB. They also want to see improved access to diagnostic tests.
Diagnostics Advisor at MSF’s Access Campaign Stijn Deborggraeve said: “It is critical that we have better access to tests to diagnose TB and resistance to drugs used for treating TB so that we can identify more people who need treatment and roll out the shorter and safer all-oral treatment regimens.”
The lowest-available price for this newer DR-TB treatment is $570, MSF said. They called for the price of a complete course, including a regimen known as BPaLM, to be no more than $500.