A lesson from Azerbaijan to prevent spread of TB in prisons

In Azerbaijan, a dedicated programme has helped to dramatically reduce rates of TB infection among prisoners and has bolstered treatment outcomes. Building on this success, the country is now home to the world’s only WHO collaborating centre specialising in this subject: the ‘WHO Collaborating Centre on Prevention and Control of Tuberculosis in Prisons’

In the fight against tuberculosis (#TB), we cannot leave out prisoners. They are among those most at risk from the disease
In the fight against tuberculosis (TB), we cannot leave out prisoners. They are among those most at risk from the disease Image courtesy: WHO Europe

Despite valuable progress, tuberculosis (TB) remains a major health problem in prisons across the world. Within the WHO European Region, reported TB cases among prisoners are up to 30 times higher than in the general population; people in prisons are more likely to die from TB and less likely to be cured of the disease.

But in Azerbaijan a dedicated programme has helped to dramatically reduce rates of TB infection for prisoners.

Since its establishment in 2012, it has hosted more than 200 trainees from around the world who have visited specifically to learn from Azerbaijan’s initiative. The WHO has published a special report on the same recently.

Back in 1995, just half of TB patients completed the treatment and many lost their life in prison. But the situation has changed now. According to WHO report, cure rates are over 90 per cent for detainees on first-line medicines, and more than 75 per cent for those on the second-line treatment, while they are around 100 times less likely to die from the disease.

The country is implementing programmes to strengthen TB prevention and control within the justice system, supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; WHO; and other partners. In addition, the country is exceeding WHO targets for treating more complex drug-resistant cases.

“Despite being preventable and curable, TB threatens the health of many detainees around the world, who too often face discrimination in terms of access to quality health-care services,” says Dr Masoud Dara, Coordinator for Communicable Diseases at WHO/Europe and Chair of the TB Control in Prisons Working Group of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease.

A lesson from Azerbaijan to prevent spread of TB in prisons
Despite progress, TB remains a major health problem in prisons. But one centre in Azerbaijan is helping countries from around the world learn how to prevent its spread. Image courtesy: WHO Europe

In WHO report, Dr Natavan Alikhanova, TB Coordinator within the Main Medical Department of Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Justice, had said, “All those admitted to the penitentiary system are now routinely screened using state-of-the-art rapid testing, and then thereafter at special annual screening sessions.”

Alikhanova said, “Detainees who test positive are counselled on treatment options and referred to a dedicated TB hospital. Importantly, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also follow-up on patients upon their release from the prison, which has been instrumental for treatment success.”