For the first time in more than a decade, global tuberculosis (TB) deaths increased last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed in a new report.
In 2020, 1.5 million people died of TB, an increase from the 1.4 million reported deaths from the bacterial disease a year earlier.
It is the first time since 2005 that there was an increase in the year-over-year of TB deaths worldwide.
Experts believe the amount of medical resources invested into Covid last year – pulling resources away from elsewhere – and the disruption of medical treatment during the pandemic are the behind the increase.
For the first time since 2005, tuberculosis deaths increased year-over-year in 2020, growing to 1.5 million globally compared to 1.4 million the year before. Officials at the WHO believe it is a sign of years of progress being reversed. Pictured: A Chest X-ray of a person with TB
‘This report confirms our fears that the disruption of essential health services due to the pandemic could start to unravel years of progress against tuberculosis,’ said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, in a news release.
‘This is alarming news that must serve as a global wake-up call to the urgent need for investments and innovation to close the gaps in diagnosis, treatment and care for the millions of people affected by this ancient but preventable and treatable disease.’
The release also refers to the pandemic as having ‘reversed years of global progress in tackling tuberculosis.’
TB is very serious infection in which bacteria attacks a person’s lungs and can spread to the rest of the body.
According to the report, released on Thursday, the WHO estimates that 10 million people, including 1.1 million children, were infected worldwide – with 86 percent of cases occurring in the 30 most ‘burdened’ country.
Almost all, 98 percent, of these cases occur in low- or middle-income nations.
The most burdened nations include India – the global leader of TB cases with nearly three million annually – Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa.
India is the nation with the nation hardest struck by TB, accounting for three million of the ten million cases globally. The south Asian nation is among the 30 ‘burdened’ nations that account for 98% of global TB cases. Pictured: A TB patient in Gauhati, India, sits on his hospital bed on October 14
Tackling the deadly condition has become a priority for the WHO and other health officials globally.
Last year was a disappointing year in that battle, though, with health officials losing ground on multiple fronts.
The amount of global funding for TB diagnostic treatment fell from $5.8 billion in 2019 to $5.3 billion in 2020 – both figures falling well short of the $13 billion investment goal set by the WHO.
Investment in research and development of treatments for the drugs is lacking as well, with only $900 million being invested globally – less than half of a $2.2 billion target.
The world also missed some crucial TB reduction goals last year.
The WHO set a goal of reducing the number of global TB deaths by 35 percent from 2015 to 2020.
Crucial five year targets in reducing global TB cases and deaths were missed in 2020. Cases were only reduced by 11% over the five year period, missing the goal of 20%. Deaths were reduced by 9.2%, missing the 35% target
Deaths were only reduced by 9.2 percent during that time period, according the official data.
The organization also aimed to reduce the global number of Covid cases by 20 percent over that five-year span, but cases only fell by 11 percent.
In order to get back on track, the WHO is calling on governments worldwide to invest more into fighting TB.
‘The report calls on countries to put in place urgent measures to restore access to essential TB services,’ the release states.
‘It further calls for a doubling of investments in TB research and innovation as well as concerted action across the health sector and others to address the social, environmental and economic determinants of TB and its consequences.’