A doctor checks the chest X-ray of a patient in the tuberculosis department of the government-run Osmania General Hospital in Hyderabad.
A doctor checks the chest X-ray of a patient in the tuberculosis department of the government-run Osmania General Hospital in Hyderabad.

World tuberculosis day:
Many people with TB are going untreated during the Covid-19 pandemic

OPINION: There is a great risk for a surge in the TB cases and mortality in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

World tuberculosis day is commemorated every year on March 24, the date when Dr. Robert Koch in 1882 announced his discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that causes tuberculosis (TB).

Most deadly infection before Covid-19

Despite being a curable and preventable disease, each year TB kills 1.4 million people and 10 million new people contract disease. Before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, TB was responsible for more deaths than any other infection globally.

In Norway, TB mortality peaked around the year1900 and TB disease was endemic until the 1950s. TB had a declining incidence rate until the mid-1990s, when an increase occurred in parallel with increased immigration from TB endemic areas, making global TB control imperative for local TB control in Norway.

TB healthcare workers are reallocated

Global efforts to combat TB have saved an estimated 63 million lives since the year 2000. The UN Sustainable Development Goals target 3.3 calls for, by 2030, ending the epidemics of TB. However, the Covid-19 pandemic, has put progress in TB control at risk. In a USAID survey in 2020, 83 percent of high TB endemic countries reported reallocation of TB healthcare workers to the Covid-19 response. 57 percent reported a reduction in the number of beds available for in-patient treatment of drug-resistant TB, and a significant fall in TB notifications.

This implied that many people with TB are going untreated and are potentially transmitting the infection, despite the assumption that prevention measures for Covid-19 might have led to some reduction in the transmission of TB.

Great risk for surge in TB cases

There is a great risk for a surge in the TB cases and mortality in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. Failure to improve on the global response to TB could have catastrophic clinical and economic implications and reversal of gains in global TB control. TB and Covid-19 have many common characteristics. Effective leadership, smart investment, and efficient coordinated efforts towards tackling both diseases and strengthening the health systems could lead to efficient control of both diseases rather than the either/or scenario.

TB is curable and preventable!

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