WHO says pandemic led to more TB deaths and huge treatment shortfalls


The number of deaths from tuberculosis (TB) increased last year for the first time in a decade, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday, putting the number at 1.5 million.

The WHO blamed the rise on disruptions to health care during the coronavirus pandemic.

The WHO’s annual report on TB, a preventable and curable disease, said the pandemic and related curbs had “reversed years of global progress” and warned that TB deaths could be “much higher” again this year and next.

In 2020, the Geneva-based WHO said, “more people died from TB, with far fewer people being diagnosed and treated or provided with TB preventive treatment compared with 2019,” when around 1.4 million deaths from the bacterial respiratory disease were recorded.

As the coronavirus pandemic spread to countries such as India, Indonesia and the Philippines, “human, financial and other resources” were “reallocated from tackling TB to the Covid-19 response, limiting the availability of essential services.”

According to the WHO, TB diagnosis and treatment were further hampered because “people have struggled to seek care in the context of lockdowns,” meaning the number of undiagnosed TB cases worldwide likely rose from 2.9 million before the pandemic to 4.1 million last year, while the number of confirmed patients fell over the same period from 7.1 million to 5.8 million.

Last month the Stop TB Partnership said the pandemic likely left 4.3 million TB sufferers without treatment and warned of “all but certain death for probably half that number.”

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