COVID-19 Reduced TB Treatment By 21% In 2020 – 1.4 Million Fewer People Received Care
Dr Tereza Kasaeva, Director of WHO’s Global TB Programme.

An estimated 1.4 million fewer people received care for tuberculosis (TB) in 2020 than in 2019 – a drop of 21% – according to preliminary data compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO) from over 80 countries.

Countries worst affected are Indonesia (42%), South Africa (41%), Philippines (37%) and India (25%), and the WHO fears that over half a million more people may have died from TB ilast year simply because they were unable to obtain a diagnosis.

“The effects of COVID-19 go far beyond the death and disease caused by the virus itself. The disruption to essential services for people with TB is just one tragic example of the ways the pandemic is disproportionately affecting some of the world’s poorest people, who were already at higher risk for TB,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. 

“These sobering data point to the need for countries to make universal health coverage a key priority as they respond to and recover from the pandemic, to ensure access to essential services for TB and all diseases.”

The WHO report follows a report released last week by the Stop TB Partnership which showed that the drop in people diagnosed and treated for TB in nine high-burden countries had dropped to 2008 levels – a setback of 12 years.

New TB Screening Guidelines

“Twelve years of impressive gains in the fight against TB, including in reducing the number of people who were missing from TB care, have been tragically reversed by another virulent respiratory infection,” said Dr. Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership.

“In the process, we put the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in jeopardy. I hope that in 2021 we buckle up and we smartly address, at the same time, TB and COVID-19 as two airborne diseases with similar symptoms.”

To mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on service delivery, the WHO has developed new screening guidance, including the use of rapid diagnostic tests, computer-aided detection to interpret chest radiography and the use of a wider range of approaches for screening people living with HIV for TB. 

The WHO recommends that the contacts of TB patients, people living with HIV, people exposed to silica, prisoners and other key populations should be prioritized for TB screening. 

People With TB Most Marginalised

“For centuries, people with TB have been among the most marginalized and vulnerable. COVID-19 has intensified the disparities in living conditions and ability to access services both within and between countries,” says Dr Tereza Kasaeva, Director of WHO’s Global TB Programme.

“We must now make a renewed effort to work together to ensure that TB programmes are strong enough to deliver during any future emergency – and look for innovative ways to do this.”

The new guidance also recommends different tools for screening, namely symptom screening, chest radiography, computer-aided detection software, molecular WHO-approved rapid diagnostic tests, and C-reactive protein. 

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