Ethical issues in expanding latent TB management in high burden countries

Saurav Basu, Nandini Sharma, Sundari Mase, K S Sachdeva

DOI: 10.20529/IJME.2020.020


Global efforts are being made to eliminate tuberculosis (TB) as a public health problem by 2030. These efforts are being thwarted by the challenge of effective management to minimise the progression of latent TB infection (LTBI) to TB, thereby interrupting the chain of transmission. Approximately 5%–10% LTBI cases eventually develop TB in their lifetime with the risk being higher in children, people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV), undernourished people, and patients with diabetes, chronic kidney disease, silicosis, and other comorbid conditions. Apart from operational barriers, complex ethical issues govern decision-making processes in either retaining current LTBI management practices or advocating implementation of the latest World Health Organization guidelines, which suggest extending treatment to vulnerable groups who have a higher risk of progression to TB. Newer LTBI treatment regimens have a diminished risk of toxicity that allays threats to patient safety. Public health justification for treating LTBI can also override patient autonomy, but the lack of a patient-centred approach is associated with poor adherence and treatment outcomes. Cost-effectiveness studies need to evaluate the gains and losses accruing from funding treatment of LTBI versus similar costs in nutritional interventions for managing undernutrition. Similarly, the impact of diverting resources available for management of the existing active TB control programmes to expanding LTBI treatment also needs to be assessed. In conclusion, a comprehensive LTBI treatment strategy built on the basis of high-quality evidence is the best way forward for resolving the ethical considerations at the heart of LTBI management in the developing world. Keywords: Tuberculosis; India; Latent TB; Medical ethics

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