A baby receives the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine against tuberculosis at an integrated service post in Banda Aceh, Indonesia
The novel coronavirus pandemic threatens to reverse advances in eradicating tuberculosis, which has so far been the killer of infectious diseases worldwide, the World Health Organization warned on Wednesday.
Tuberculosis-hit countries like India and South Africa have allocated resources that are normally dedicated to diagnosing and treating TB to fight the coronavirus, according to WHO.
The report estimates that TB could cause between 200,000 and 400,000 more deaths this year than the 1.4 million last year, although remedial measures are in place.
“The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to cancel out the profits made in recent years,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“The impact of the pandemic on TB services has been severe. The data collected by WHO from countries with high TB exposure shows a sharp drop in TB reports in 2020,” he said.
In India alone, weekly and monthly reports fell 50 percent from late March to late April after the country with the world’s highest number of cases was locked.
A similar trend was observed in South Africa between March and June.
Doctors Without Borders humanitarian group said it was “discouraging” to see that world governments are not on track to meet TB testing and treatment goals.
“With COVID-19 causing TB test tracing, governments need to devise a catch-up plan. It’s time for excuses,” said Sharonan Lynch, advisor on TB policy for the group.
Aside from the lockdown, which makes patient care difficult, the Covid-19 pandemic is also pulling away medical staff as well as financial and technical resources, according to the WHO.
Back in early May, the WHO’s Tuberculosis Control Department estimated that a three-month lockdown between 2020 and 2025 could lead to six million new infections and 1.4 million additional TB deaths.
End of a dream?
TB is caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacillus, which affects the lungs and spreads when sick people expel bacteria, for example through coughing.
Often times, when a person is in good health, the infection has no symptoms as the immune system “locks up” the bacillus, the WHO said.
When people develop tuberculosis, there is a cough, often with blood in the sputum, chest pain, weight loss, and night sweats.
TB can be treated with antibiotics for several months, and the WHO estimates that diagnosis and treatment saved 58 million people between 2000 and 2018.
So far, TB has been one of the top ten causes of death worldwide, especially because symptoms can remain hidden for months.
Although tuberculosis occurs worldwide, more than 95 percent of its cases and deaths occur in developing countries.
In 2019, 44 percent of the cases were registered in Southeast Asia, 25 percent in Africa, 18 percent in the western Pacific and 8.2 percent in the eastern Mediterranean. America accounted for 2.9 percent and Europe 2.5 percent.
However, eight countries accounted for two thirds of the new cases: India, Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh and South Africa.
Before the pandemic, there were only 78 countries standing by to meet the 2020 case reduction targets.
The disease infected around 10 million additional people last year, a slight decrease from previous years, according to the WHO.
Around 1.4 million people died from it last year, including 208,000 who were infected with HIV, which is also a decrease.
WHO said the declines were still not fast enough to meet targets set for late 2020 as part of a strategy to eradicate tuberculosis by 2030.
At least 1,087,513 people have died from the coronavirus since it emerged in China in late 2019, according to an AFP tally on Wednesday.
At least 38.2 million cases have been registered worldwide.
Coronavirus cases top 30 million worldwide
© 2020 AFP
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