The death toll from tuberculosis rises due to the covid-19 pandemic

The effects of the covid-19 pandemic on health services have taken years of fighting tuberculosis ahead and, for the first time in more than ten years, deaths from this disease are increasing, the WHO warned this Thursday.

The situation does not seem to improve: a growing number of people do not know that they have the disease, for which there is treatment and can be cured, says the World Health Organization (WHO) in its annual report on tuberculosis, which covers 2020.

The WHO estimates that some 4.1 million people have tuberculosis, but they have not been diagnosed or have not been officially declared, a figure much higher than the 2.9 million in 2019.

The covid-19 pandemic has reversed years of global progress in the fight against tuberculosis, a disease caused by a germ that often affects the lungs.

According to the report, last year there were 214,000 deaths from tuberculosis among HIV-positive people (compared to 209,000 in 2019) and 1.3 million deaths from tuberculosis among other patients (compared to 1.2 million in 2019). That is, about 1.5 million deaths in total, a figure that had not been reached since 2017, specifies the WHO.

"This report confirms our fears that the disruption of basic health services due to the pandemic could reduce years of progress against tuberculosis to nothing."Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general, insisted in a statement.

"It is alarming news that should serve as a global red flag about the urgent need to invest and innovate to bridge the gaps in diagnosis, treatment and care for the millions of people affected by this preventable and treatable disease."he added.

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– India and Indonesia – The increase in deaths jeopardizes the WHO strategy to reduce deaths from the disease by 90% and the incidence rate of tuberculosis by 80% by 2030, compared to 2015.

According to the organization’s forecasts, the number of people who develop tuberculosis and die could be "much higher in 2021 and 2022".

There have been many negative impacts: lockdowns have complicated patient access to healthcare facilities, and the pandemic has mobilized healthcare personnel and financial and technical resources.

The number of new diagnoses and patients declared by the authorities has fallen to 5.8 million in 2020, compared to 7.1 million in 2019.

The drop in reported cases is seen above all in India, Indonesia, the Philippines and China.

The supply of preventive treatment for tuberculosis has also suffered: some 2.8 million people have had access to it in 2020, representing a reduction of 21% in one year.

In addition, the number of people treated for drug-resistant tuberculosis decreased by 15%, from 177,000 in 2019 to 150,000 in 2020, which is equivalent to approximately one in three who need it.

Global spending on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of tuberculosis also fell, from $ 5.8 billion (€ 4.9 billion) to $ 5.3 billion (€ 4.5 billion) in 2020, less than half of the target. global financing, set at $ 13 billion (€ 11.2 billion) per year by 2022.

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