Focus on Covid sees ‘drastic’ rise in untreated TB – dpa international


DUBLIN — The coronavirus pandemic is having a “worse than expected” impact on deadly tuberculosis (TB), the Stop TB Partnership warned on Thursday.

Repeat lockdowns have “prevented access to TB diagnostic and treatment services,” the partnership said, while the focus on the pandemic in hospitals and by governments has “severely disrupted TB responses in low- and middle-income countries.”

The result has been a “drastic decline” in diagnosis and treatment, particularly in nine “high TB burden countries” such as India and Indonesia.

According to India’s Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, who chairs the partnership’s board, “TB didn’t go anywhere when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.”

“People just got distracted, health workers were redirected, and health systems became overwhelmed,” the minister said.

Around 1.5 million people die each year from TB out of around 10 million cases, the partnership said, with deaths “in low- and middle-income countries” remaining “far higher than those from Covid-19,” the disease sometimes caused by the coronavirus.

The reported 121 million coronavirus cases worldwide have led to almost 2.7 million Covid-related deaths, many in high-income countries.

TB and Covid-19 are airborne respiratory diseases with some similar symptoms, such as cough, fever and breathlessness, though TB is bacterial rather than viral.

Although TB “has been around since the time of the pharaohs,” the sole vaccine was developed a century ago, the partnership said, warning that “its effectiveness in adults is poor.”

In contrast, coronavirus vaccines were developed “after less than a year” and “will hopefully end the pandemic,” said partnership board member Thokozile Phiri Nkoma.

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