WHO: Tuberculosis cases rise for 1st time in years
The WHO says that around 1.6 million people died after getting infected with drug-resistant tuberculosis in 2021.
The number of individuals infected with tuberculosis, including the type that is resistant to drugs, increased globally for the first time in years, according to a report published on Thursday by the World Health Organization (WHO).
In 2021, more than 10 million people in the world were infected by tuberculosis, the WHO said, a 4.5% year-on-year increase from 2020.
The WHO added that around 1.6 million people died, and about 450,000 of the cases involved individuals infected with drug-resistant TB, an 3% increase in comparison with 2020.
After the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020, more than a decade of progress was lost, Dr. Mel Spigelman, president of the non-profit TB Alliance, said.
"Despite gains in areas like preventative therapy, we are still behind in just about every pledge and goal regarding TB," he added.
Covid-19 was also blamed by the WHO for much of the rise in tuberculosis, saying the pandemic "continues to have a damaging impact on access to TB diagnosis and treatment," and adding that the progress made before 2019 has "slowed, stalled or reversed."
Since fewer people were being diagnosed with tuberculosis, patients are unknowingly spreading the highly infectious disease to others in outbreaks that may even not have been noticed in countries having weak health systems.
The number of those newly identified with TB fell from 7 million in 2019 to 5.8 million in 2020, according to the WHO.
As the Covid-19 restrictions, such as lockdowns and distancing protocols, hindered TB treatment services and may have forced some people to stay home instead of going to health facilities to avoid catching coronavirus, the WHO called for more countries to cover all TB diagnoses and treatment expenses.
The downturn in the economy worldwide was also a factor, according to officials, who said that about half of all TB patients face "catastrophic total costs" due to their treatment.
Dr. Hannah Spencer, who is with Doctors Without Borders in South Africa, called for decreasing the prices of TB treatment so a complete course costs no more than $500.
Ongoing conflicts in eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa have made it more difficult for patients to seek TB diagnosis and treatment, according to the WHO.
Ukraine had one of the world's worst TB epidemics even before the February war started in the country. Health experts are concerned that the patients who might not be able to get treated could fuel the rise of more drug-resistant TB across the region.
While TB patients can seek care in Ukraine, the country lacks key medicines, and authorities face difficulty in keeping track of patients.
After Covid-19, TB is the world's deadliest infectious disease. It is caused by a bacteria that is known to affect the lungs, and it is transmitted through the air by infected people; it is preventable and curable.
Tuberculosis has recently been dubbed as a worse threat than Covid-19. Most of the deaths are coming from four countries: India, Myanmar, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
TB will "once again be the leading cause of death worldwide from a single infectious agent, replacing Covid-19," the most recent Global TB report wrote.
According to the TB Alliance, TB kills 4,109 people per day, while 1,449 people die each day as a result of Covid, based on the 40,578 deaths reported in the previous 28 days on the Johns Hopkins University dashboard.