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October 22, 2020

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Tuberculosis: Global progress hampered due to COVID-19 pandemic

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A new report has shown that global targets for prevention and treatment of Tuberculosis (TB) will likely be missed due to the COVID-19 pandemic currently ravaging the world.

The 2020 global report on TB released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), on Thursday, indicates that disruptions in services caused by the pandemic have led to further setbacks in progress already made against the disease.

According to the report, global TB deaths could increase by around 0.2–0.4 million in 2020 alone, if health services are disrupted to the extent that the number of identified TB cases falls by 25–50 per cent over three months.

Many countries were making steady progress in tackling TB prior to the COVID-19 pandemic which has already infected over 38 million people worldwide, the report shows.

It said there was a 9 per cent reduction in incidents seen between 2015 and 2019 and a 14 per cent drop in deaths in the same period.

According to the report, about 10 million people fell ill from TB in 2019 and 1.4 million people died from TB-related illnesses, including 208,000 people living with HIV.

It also indicates that about 465 000 people were newly diagnosed with drug-resistant TB in 2019 and, of these, less than 40 per cent were able to access treatment.

TB is caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) that most often affect the lungs. Tuberculosis is curable and preventable.

TB is spread from person to person through the air. When people with lung TB cough, sneeze or spit, they propel the TB germs into the air.

Insufficient funding

The WHO report also highlighted poor funding as a major challenge in reaching the 2022 TB target.

The fight against TB has been chronically underfunded in the last few years.

This has impeded the fight against the disease as many countries such as Nigeria have been complaining of low funding to fight against the disease.

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Many low and middle-income countries have been depending on international funding with 73 per cent coming through from Global Fund.

The new report shows that human, financial and other resources have been reallocated from TB to the COVID-19 response in some countries. Data collection and reporting systems have also been negatively impacted.”

It noted that data collated from over 200 countries have shown significant reductions in TB case notifications, with 25-30 per cent drops reported in 3 high burden countries – India, Indonesia, the Philippines – between January and June 2020 compared to the same 6-month period in 2019.

“These reductions in case notifications could lead to a dramatic increase in additional TB deaths,” the health agency said.

Action

The Director-General of WHO, Tedros Ghebreyesus, in a statement, said access to treatment remains a major challenge in the fight against the disease.

He called for urgent action and investments to ensure the set target is met.

“Equitable access to quality and timely diagnosis, prevention, treatment and care remains a challenge. Accelerated action is urgently needed worldwide if we are to meet our targets by 2022,” he said.

He noted that some countries have taken measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on essential TB services, including by strengthening infection control.

He said 108 countries – including 21 countries with a high TB burden – have expanded the use of digital technologies to provide remote advice and support.

“In the face of the pandemic, countries, civil society and other partners have joined forces to ensure that essential services for both TB and COVID-19 are maintained for those in need,” Tereza Kaseva, Director of WHO’s Global TB Programme said.

He stated that these efforts are vital to strengthen health systems, ensure health for all, and save lives.”

Nigeria’s TB status

TB is one of the vaccine-preventable killer diseases, which is also curable.

Nigeria remains one of the 30 countries globally with the highest burden of the disease. Nigeria also ranks first in Africa with the highest number of undetected cases.

Statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) show that every year, around 245,000 Nigerians die from TB, and about 590,000 new cases occur (of these, around 140,000 are also HIV-positive).



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