Twelve months of Covid-19 has reversed 12 years of global progress against tuberculosis, worse than previously estimated.
The pandemic has resulted in nearly a 25% decrease in diagnosis and treatment around the world, according to research published on Thursday by a coalition working to end TB.
Peter Sands, executive director of the Global Fund, said that while it feels there may be light at the end of the tunnel as far as Covid goes, “for the communities we’re talking about here, those most at risk of TB, we’re right at the darkest point”.
Due to the impact of the Covid pandemic on services, the number of people diagnosed and treated for TB in the worst-affected countries has dropped back to 2008 levels, said Stop TB Partnership’s executive director, Lucica Ditiu.
“After less than a year, a vaccine was developed and is now being deployed to help contain, and hopefully end, the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Thokozile Phiri Nkhoma, a Stop TB Partnership board member.
“But although TB has been around since the time of the pharaohs, the only approved vaccine is 100 years old and doesn’t fully work, especially in adults. First-line treatment for TB is several decades old, and drug resistance is on the rise, while the millions of people with TB who are not found and treated remain at risk of spreading the disease.”
Every year TB infects 10 million people and kills 1.5 million, more than any other infectious disease. Although Covid-19 overtook TB in 2020 as the most common cause of death from an infectious disease, TB still kills more people than Covid in low- and middle-income countries.
“TB didn’t go anywhere when the Covid-19 pandemic hit,” said India’s minister of health, Harsh Vardhan. “People just got distracted, health workers were redirected and health systems became overwhelmed.