As tuberculosis (TB) remains a serious public health concern in the Eastern European and Central Asian countries (EECA), a two-day international symposium will take place in Dushanbe from May 3-4 to address new approaches to treatment and urge for scale-up of new drugs and diagnostic tools.

Hosted by the Ministry of Health and Social Protection of Population of the Republic of Tajikistan (MoHSPP) and the international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the symposium is bringing together around 160 participants from various countries in the EECA region and beyond.

According to the MSF Office in Tajikistan, this year’s symposium entitled “We can stop TB. Scientific Breakthrough: Solution for DR-TB is in our hands” focuses on the recent scientific and clinical achievements in the field of drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) treatment.  Evidence around the effectiveness of new, shorter and safer drug regimens that were included in the updated World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations will be presented as a core part of the symposium.

In December 2022, the WHO issued new guidelines that recommend countries roll out the safer and shorter regimen, BPaLM, to treat people with DR-TB, partly based on the results of MSF-led TB PRACTECAL trial. The trial is a multi-country, randomized, controlled clinical trial showing that the new, all-oral six-month BPaLM based treatment is safer and more effective at treating DR-TB than the currently used treatment regimens that are much longer, cause intolerable side effects, and only cure 60 per cent of people with DR-TB.

“Tajikistan became one of the first countries in the world to provide TB patients with access to this new treatment regimen,” says Dr. Jamoliddin Abdullozoda, Minister of Health and Social Protection of Population of the Republic of Tajikistan.  “We believe that the introduction of the new regimen and the new drug pretomanid will significantly improve treatment outcomes for patients with drug-resistant tuberculosis and therefore reduce its prevalence in our society.”

Five countries where MSF works have started implementing the shorter regimen in 2022 including three countries in the EECA region: Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Sierra Leone and Pakistan. Eight more countries where MSF works are due to implement the shorter regimen in 2023. MSF is working closely with national TB programs, ministries of health, and other key stakeholders to ensure that this new regimen is available to people with DR-TB as soon as possible.

“For decades, people with drug resistant tuberculosis had no option but to undergo a long and exhausting course of treatment,” says Norman Sitali, MSF’s Medical Operations Manager overseeing programs in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Belarus and Sierra Leone. “Now that the shorter, safer, and more effective treatment regimen is available it can truly transform the lives of people with TB, so it is essential that the new treatment is made accessible to everyone who needs it.”

Other symposium topics include diagnostics, treatment and challenges related to pediatric DR-TB, multidisciplinary approaches to TB person-centered care, stigma around TB and community engagement in tackling the disease.

Tuberculosis (TB) is a communicable disease that is a major cause of ill health and one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Until the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, TB was the leading cause of death from a single infectious agent, ranking above HIV/AIDS.

Drug-resistant TB (DR-TB) continues to be a public health threat.  Resistance to rifampicin – the most effective first-line drug – is of greatest concern.  Strains of the disease that are resistant to at least rifampicin and isoniazid are defined as multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB). The burden of DR-TB is estimated to have increased between 2020 and 2021, with 450,000 new cases of rifampicin resistant TB (RR -TB) in 2021.

MSF is an international, independent, medical humanitarian organization that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, pandemics, natural disasters and exclusion from healthcare.  MSF is currently working in more than 70 countries around the world.

MSF is one of the largest non-governmental providers of TB treatment worldwide.  In 2021, 17,221 people in MSF’s care were started on TB treatment, including 2,309 people with DR-TB.

Since 2011, MSF has been working together with the Tajik Ministry of Health and Social Protection on providing TB treatment and care for children and adults to reduce mortality and morbidity and work towards ensuring universal access to comprehensive TB care in Tajikistan.