WHO Reports Global Increase Of Tuberculosis Death Due To COVID-19 Pandemic


The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected years of the global progress. The World Health Organization (WHO) confirms this claim in its 2021 Global TB report.

This according to the UN agency is as a result of the sudden pandemic in 2020. The report revealed that many countries reallocated resources from combating TB to the COVID-19 response.

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The human, financial and other resources limited the availability of essential services. Also, the impact of the 2020 lockdown, which restricted people trying to seek care.

“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 the WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“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.”

WHO noted that TB services are among many others disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, but the impact on TB has been particularly severe. This was revealed in a press release available to PUNCH Healthwise.

“For example, approximately, 1.5 million people died from TB in 2020 (including 214 000 among HIV positive people).

“The increase in the number of TB deaths occurred mainly in the 30 countries with the highest burden of TB.

“WHO modelling projections suggest the number of people developing TB and dying from the disease could be much higher in 2021 and 2022.

“Challenges with providing and accessing essential TB services have meant that many people with TB were not diagnosed in 2020. “The number of people newly diagnosed with TB and those reported to national governments fell from 7.1 million in 2019 to 5.8 million in 2020,” it said.

WHO estimates the sufferers of TB to be about 4.1 million. However, they have not been diagnosed or officially reported to national authorities.

This new figure surpasses the 2019 figure with a massive 2.9 million.

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According to this update, four countries contributed largely to the global reduction between 2019 and 2020.

These countries were; i. India (41 per cent). Ii. Indonesia (14 per cent). Iii. the Philippines (12 per cent). iv. China (eight per cent). Meanwhile, 12 other countries accounted for the 93 per cent of the total global drop in notification.

Also, there was a reduction on the provision of the TB preventive treatment. This dropped to a massive 21 percent as only 2.8 million people accessed it in 2020.

The number of people treated for drug-resistant TB fell from 177,000 in 2019 to 150,000 in 2020. This is a huge 15 per cent gap.

“Funding in the low- and middle-income countries that account for 98 per cent of reported TB cases remains a challenge. Of the total funding available in 2020, 81 per cent came from domestic sources, with the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russian Federation, India, China and South Africa) accounting for 65 percent of total domestic funding.

“The largest bilateral donor is the Government of the United States of America. The biggest international donor is the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

“The report notes a fall in global spending on TB diagnostic, treatment and prevention services, from US$ 5.8 billion to US$ 5.3 billion, which is less than half of the global target for fully funding the TB response of US$ 13 billion annually by 2022.

“Meanwhile, although there is progress in the development of new TB diagnostics, drugs and vaccines, this is constrained by the overall level of R&D investment, which at US$ 0.9 billion in 2019 falls far short of the global target of US$ 2 billion per year,” WHO noted.

While the reductions appear as a progress, the organization calls it reversals in progress. This means that the global TB targets are off track and appear to be highly out of risk.

There are, however, some global successes since 2015 to 2020. There is a reduction in the number of TB deaths 35 per cent from 9.2 per cent. Also, the global indicators of those infected with TB dropped to 20 per cent.

“We have just one year left to reach the historic 2022 TB targets committed by Heads of State at the first UN High Level Meeting on TB. The report provides important information and a strong reminder to countries to urgently fast-track their TB responses and save lives,” said the Director of WHO’s Global TB Programme.

“This will be crucial as preparations begin for the 2nd UN High Level Meeting on TB mandated for 2023.”

This report is a wake-up call for countries to establish urgent measures to:

1. Restore access to essential TB services.
2. Doubling investment on TB research.
3. Diversified action to improve various health sectors.

The goal is to address the social, environmental and economic determinants of TB and its repercussion.

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