​​TB Progress Reversing Amid COVID-19

A nurse vaccinates a baby against tuberculosis, polio, and measles in the village of Tanarake, Madagascar. September 1, 2021.  Image: Rijasolo/AFP/Getty
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A nurse vaccinates a baby against tuberculosis, polio, and measles in the village of Tanarake, Madagascar. September 1, 2021. Image: Rijasolo/AFP/Getty

Deaths from tuberculosis, now the second deadliest infectious killer after COVID-19, climbed worldwide for the first time in a decade—a reversal of progress the WHO’s latest TB report ties directly to the pandemic.
 
Key challenges: The pandemic has overwhelmed health systems and stymied access to essential care, WHO reports.
 
By the numbers:

  • ~1.5 million people—including 214,000 with HIV—died from TB in 2020. (~1.4 million died from the disease in 2019, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation).
  • The increase was mainly concentrated in 30 nations including Angola, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Zambia.  
  • Mark of the pandemic: Despite the rising toll, diagnoses actually fell from 7.1 million in 2019 to 5.8 million in 2020.
  • Spending on TB diagnostics, treatments, and prevention dropped from $5.3 billion in 2020 from $5.8 billion in 2019. The global target: $13 billion a year by 2022.


The trend is only expected to worsen in 2021 and 2022, The New York Times notes.
 
What to do? A new PLOS Global Public Health paper pulls lessons from progress fighting neglected tropical diseases, namely by focusing on interventions that prioritize affordability, simplicity, and community engagement to spur demand for treatment and reduce stigma.

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