GENEVA (AP) — The number of people infected with tuberculosis, including the drug-resistant type, has risen worldwide for the first time in years, according to a report released Thursday by the World Health Organization.
The United Nations health agency said more than 10 million people worldwide fell ill with tuberculosis in 2021, a 4.5% increase from the previous year. About 1.6 million people died, he added. The WHO said around 450,000 cases were in people infected with drug-resistant tuberculosis, 3% more than in 2020.
Dr Mel Spigelman, president of the nonprofit TB Alliance, said more than a decade of progress was lost when COVID-19 emerged in 2020.
“Despite gains in areas such as preventive therapy, we are still behind on nearly all TB commitments and targets,” Spigelman said.
The WHO has also blamed COVID-19 for much of the rise in TB, saying the pandemic “continues to adversely impact access to TB diagnosis and treatment”. He said progress made before 2019 has since “slowed down, stalled or reversed”.
With fewer people diagnosed with the highly infectious disease, more patients are unknowingly transmitting TB to others in outbreaks that may not have been spotted in countries with weak health systems.
The WHO reported that the number of people newly diagnosed with TB rose from 7 million in 2019 to 5.8 million in 2020.
The WHO also said COVID-19 restrictions, including lockdowns and physical distancing protocols, have also hampered TB treatment services and may have caused some people to stay away from health facilities. healthcare facilities for fear of catching the coronavirus. Officials added that the slowing global economy was also a factor, saying around half of all TB patients and their families face “catastrophic total costs” as a result of their treatment. WHO has asked more countries to cover all costs for TB diagnosis and treatment.
After COVID-19, tuberculosis is the deadliest infectious disease in the world. It is caused by bacteria that usually affects the lungs. Germs are mainly spread from person to person through the air, for example when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Tuberculosis mainly affects adults, especially those suffering from malnutrition or other illnesses such as HIV; over 95% of cases are in developing countries.
According to the WHO report, only one in three people with drug-resistant tuberculosis receives treatment.
“Drug-resistant tuberculosis is curable, but alarmingly cases are on the rise for the first time in years,” said Dr Hannah Spencer, who works with Doctors Without Borders in South Africa. “There is an urgent need for shorter, safer and more effective treatments to be scaled up now.”
Spencer called for lowering the price of TB treatment so that a full treatment cost 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 worst tuberculosis epidemics in the world even before Russia invaded the country in February. Health experts fear that the inability of patients to seek treatment is fueling the rise of more drug-resistant tuberculosis in the region.
While tuberculosis patients displaced by war can seek treatment in Ukraine, the country has experienced a shortage of essential drugs and authorities are struggling to track patients.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.