Ahead of World Tuberculosis Day on March 24, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has alerted to the rise in infections and deaths due to COVID-19 disruptions.
The global agency, in a statement yesterday, said the disease remains one of the world’s deadliest infectious killers, as over 4,100 people lose their lives to the ailment and close to 30,000 others fall ill daily to this preventable and curable disease.
To address the situation, the apex United Nations health body has called for urgent investment in support, care and information regarding the epidemic.
March 24 marks the day in 1882 when Dr. Robert Koch announced that he had discovered the bacterium that causes TB, which opened the way towards diagnosing and curing this disease. Programmes on this day are geared at awareness about the scourge.
WHO said although 66 million lives have been saved since 2000, the COVID-19 pandemic has reversed those gains. For the first time in over a decade, TB deaths increased in 2020. Ongoing conflicts across Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East have worsened the situation for vulnerable populations.
It said COVID-19 has had a further negative and disproportionate impact on children and adolescents with TB or at risk, with increased TB transmission in the household, lower care-seeking and access to health services. WHO is sounding the alarm on World TB Day for countries to urgently restore access to TB services, disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
WHO said global spending on TB diagnostics, treatment and prevention in 2020 was less than half of the global target of $13 billion for 2022. For research and development, an extra $ 1.1 billion yearly is needed.
WHO’s Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said investments in TB programmes have demonstrated benefits not just for people with the disease, but also for health systems and pandemic preparedness.
Building on lessons from COVID-19 research, he observed that there is a need to catalyse investment and action to accelerate the development of new tools, especially new TB vaccines.
Director of WHO’s Global TB Programme, Dr. Tereza Kasaeva, said: “Children and adolescents with TB are lagging behind adults in access to TB prevention and care.”