The number of tuberculosis cases is increasing for the first time in several years
GENEVA (AP) – The number of people infected with tuberculosis, including drug-resistant tuberculosis, has risen worldwide for the first time in years, the World Health Organization said in a report Thursday.
The UN health agency said more than 10 million people worldwide will be infected with tuberculosis in 2021, an increase of 4.5 percent from the previous year. About 1.6 million people died, according to the announcement. The WHO said about 450,000 cases involved people infected with drug-resistant TB, a 3% increase from 2020.
dr. Mel Spigelman, president of the nonprofit TB Alliance, said more than a decade of progress was lost when COVID-19 hit in 2020.
“Despite progress in areas such as preventive therapy, we are still behind on almost every promise and goal related to tuberculosis,” Spigelman said.
WHO also blamed COVID-19 for much of the rise in TB, saying the pandemic “continues to have a detrimental impact on access to TB diagnosis and treatment”. It said progress made before 2019 had since “slowed, stalled or reversed”.
With fewer people diagnosed with the highly contagious disease, more patients are unknowingly spreading TB to others in epidemics that may not have been noticed in countries with weak health systems.
The WHO reported that the number of newly identified people with tuberculosis fell from 7 million in 2019 to 5.8 million in 2020.
The WHO also said that COVID-19 restrictions, including lockdowns and physical distancing protocols, have also hampered TB treatment services and may have caused some people to skip going to health facilities for fear of contracting the coronavirus. Officials added that the downturn in the global economy was also a factor, saying that about half of all TB patients and their families face “catastrophic total costs” for their treatment. WHO has called on more countries to cover all costs of TB diagnosis and treatment.
After COVID-19, TB is the deadliest infectious disease in the world. It is caused by bacteria that usually affect the lungs. Germs are mostly spread from person to person in the air, for example when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
TB mostly affects adults, especially those who are malnourished or have other conditions such as HIV; more than 95% of cases are in developing countries.
According to a WHO report, only one in three people with drug-resistant TB is treated.
“Drug-resistant TB is curable, but alarmingly, the number of cases is increasing for the first time in years,” said Dr. Hannah Spencer, who is from Doctors Without Borders in South Africa. “There is an urgent need to scale up shorter, safer and more effective treatments now.”
Spencer called for lowering the cost of tuberculosis treatment so that a full course of treatment costs no more than $500.
The WHO also said ongoing conflicts in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East have worsened options for patients seeking TB diagnosis and treatment.
Ukraine had one of the world’s worst tuberculosis outbreaks even before Russia invaded the country in February. Health experts fear that the inability of patients to receive treatment could fuel the rise of drug-resistant TB across the region.
While tuberculosis patients displaced by the war can seek care in Ukraine, the country lacks key drugs and authorities face challenges in tracking patients.
The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Division of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.
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