WHO says COVID-19 threatens to reverse progress in TB fight

File: The countries hit hard by tuberculosis such as India and South Africa have seen resources usually allocated to diagnosing and treating TB diverted to fighting coronavirus, the WHO said. AFP/Shammi Mehra

GENEVA - The novel coronavirus pandemic threatens to reverse progress towards eliminating tuberculosis, until now the top infectious disease killer globally, the World Health Organization warned.

The countries hit hard by tuberculosis such as India and South Africa have seen resources usually allocated to diagnosing and treating TB diverted to fighting coronavirus, the WHO said.

The report estimated that TB could cause this year between 200,000 and 400,000 more deaths than the 1.4 million last year, even though remedies exist.

"The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to unwind the gains made over recent years," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. 

"The impact of the pandemic on TB services has been severe. Data collated by WHO from high TB burden countries show sharp drops in TB notifications in 2020," he said.

In India alone, weekly and monthly notifications plunged by 50 percent from the end of March to end of April following a lockdown in the country, which has the highest number of cases in the world, the report said.

A similar trend, it said, was observed in South Africa between March and June.

The humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders said it was "disheartening" to see that the world's governments are not on track to reach the testing and treatment goals for TB.

"With COVID-19 causing backtracking on TB testing, governments need to come up with a catch-up plan. Time’s up for excuses," the group's TB policy advisor, Sharonan Lynch, said.

Beyond the lockdown, which makes patient care difficult, WHO said the Covid-19 pandemic is also drawing away medical staff as well as financial and technical resources.

Already in early May, the WHO's department to halt tuberculosis estimated that three months of lockdown could lead to six million new infections and 1.4 million extra TB deaths between 2020 and 2025.

Source
AFP