Coronavirus derails fight against TB WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom

NEW DELHI. – In the year since Covid-19 flipped the world on its head, diagnosis and treatment of another serious lung disease — tuberculosis — has plummeted, leaving experts fearful that progress in tackling that pandemic will be lost. 

Tuberculosis is treatable and easily diagnosed yet until COVID-19 emerged it was the world’s biggest infectious killer, leading to 1.4 million deaths each year and infecting more than 10 million people. While TB has been with humans for millennia, the progress towards eradicating this preventable disease has been painstaking.

In the run up to World Tuberculosis Day yesterday, the Stop TB Partnership warned that lockdowns and healthcare interventions prompted by Covid-19 had seen a 23 percent drop in TB treatment and diagnosis.

That essentially sets the world 12 years back in its fight to eradicate the global killer.

“Twelve years of impressive gains in the fight against TB, including in reducing the number of people who are missing from TB care, have been tragically reversed by another virulent respiratory infection,” said Lucica Ditiu, executive director of the Stop TB Partnership. “In the process, we put the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in jeopardy.”

At the start of the pandemic, modelling by Johns Hopkins University showed that a three-month lockdown followed by 10 months of health service disruption would lead to an additional 6,3 million TB cases by 2025.

In the same period, 1,4 million people would die from the disease, the model showed. Experts now acknowledge the situation is far worse than the one envisaged in the Johns Hopkins’ simulation.

Statistics from the nine highest incidence countries — Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, South Africa, Tajikistan and Ukraine — showed TB diagnosis and treatment has already declined by a total of one million people. And new studies from India and South Africa shows that people suffering with TB are three times more likely to die if infected with Covid-19 .

“The effects of Covid-19 go far beyond the death and disease caused by the virus itself,” the World Health Organisation’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week. “The disruption to essential services for people with TB is just one tragic example of the ways the pandemic is disproportionately affecting some of the world’s poorest people, who were already at higher risk for TB.” –

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