The World Health Organization said on Thursday that for the first time in a decade, tuberculosis is on the rise again globally, linked to disruptions in access to healthcare due to the COVID pandemic.
The setback has erased years of progress toward tackling a treatable disease, which affects millions of people worldwide.
“This is alarming news to serve as a global wake-up call for the urgent need for investment and innovation to close the gaps in diagnosis, treatment and care for the millions affected by this ancient but preventable and treatable disease. should,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
In its annual TB report for 2020, the WHO said progress towards eradicating the disease has turned worse, as an increasing number of cases remain undetected and untreated.
The organization estimates that about 4.1 million people have tuberculosis but have not been diagnosed or officially declared, sharply up from 2.9 million in 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation for people living with tuberculosis, as health funds have been redirected to tackle the coronavirus and people struggle to access care due to the lockdown.
The number of people seeking preventive treatment has also declined, from 2.8 million in 2020, down 21 percent from 2019.
“This report confirms our fears that disruption to essential health services due to the pandemic could begin to highlight years of progress against tuberculosis,” Tedros said.
According to the report, about 1.5 million people died of TB in 2020, including 214,000 of the HIV-positive people.
This was up from 1.2 million in 2019, 209,000 of them HIV positive.
It states that the increase in the number of TB deaths has mainly been in the 30 countries with the highest burden of tuberculosis.
deaths may increase
Tuberculosis is the second deadliest infectious disease after COVID-19, which is caused by a bacteria that most often affects the lungs.
Like COVID, it is spread through the air by infected people, for example by coughing.
Most TB cases occur in only 30 countries, many of them in poor countries in Africa and Asia, and more than half of all new cases are in adult males. Women account for 33 percent of cases and children in 11 percent.
The WHO aims to reduce TB deaths by 90 percent by 2015 and by 80 percent by 2030, but the latest figures threaten to jeopardize the strategy.
And its modeling suggests that the number of people who develop the disease and die from it could be “very high in 2021 and 2022”.
The number of newly diagnosed people and cases reported to national authorities fell from 7.1 million in 2019 to 5.8 million in 2020, the report said.
India, Indonesia, the Philippines and China were the main countries that saw a decline in reported cases.
These and 12 other countries accounted for 93 percent of the total global shortfall in notifications.
The report found that global spending on tuberculosis diagnosis, treatment and prevention services fell from $5.8 billion in 2019 to $5.3 billion a year later. The 2020 figure was less than half of the global funding target for the disease.
About 85 percent of people who develop TB disease can be successfully treated within six months with the right drugs, which also help prevent transmission of the disease.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)