COVID-19 caused rise in TB deaths for first time in a decade, gains ‘reversed’

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Deaths from tuberculosis have increased for the first time in a decade, as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

New data from the UN health agency highlighted how years of global progress in tackling the preventable disease had been “reversed” since the pandemic overwhelmed health care systems in 2020, preventing vulnerable people from seeking help.

Lockdowns had also stymied many people’s access to essential health care services, WHO’s 2021 Global TB report insisted, before issuing the additional warning that the death toll from the disease “could be much higher in 2021 and 2022,” according to latest projections.

“This report confirms our fears that the disruption of essential health services due to the pandemic could start to unravel years of progress against tuberculosis,” said WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“This is alarming news that must serve as a global wake-up call to the urgent need for investments and innovation to close the gaps in diagnosis, treatment and care for the millions of people affected.”

Covering the response to the epidemic in 197 countries and areas, the TB report found that in 2020, some 1.5 million people died from TB in 2020 – more than in 2019.

This included 214,000 patients with HIV, the UN agency said, noting that the overall TB increase was mainly in 30 countries which include Angola, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines and Zambia.

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