Tuberculosis Cases Surged in Many Years: WHO

An estimated 10.6 million people fell ill with tuberculosis (TB) in 2021, an increase of 4.5 per cent from 2020
Tuberculosis Cases Surged in Many Years: WHO
Tuberculosis Cases Surged in Many Years: WHO

An estimated 10.6 million people fell ill with tuberculosis (TB) in 2021, an increase of 4.5 per cent from 2020, and 1.6 million people died from TB, according to the World Health Organization's 2022 Global TB report.

The burden of drug-resistant TB (DR-TB) also increased by 3 per cent between 2020 and 2021, with 450 000 new cases of rifampicin-resistant TB (RR-TB) in 2021. This is the first time in many years an increase has been reported in the number of people falling ill with TB and drug resistant TB, according to the WHO report.

TB services are among many others disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, but its impact on the TB response has been particularly severe. Ongoing conflicts across Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East have further exacerbated the situation for vulnerable populations.

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"If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that with solidarity, determination, innovation and the equitable use of tools, we can overcome severe health threats. Let's apply those lessons to tuberculosis. It is time to put a stop to this long-time killer. Working together, we can end TB," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, ANI reported.

Continued challenges with providing and accessing essential TB services have meant that many people with TB were not diagnosed and treated. The reported number of people newly diagnosed with TB fell from 7.1 million in 2019 to 5.8 million in 2020, the report said. There was a partial recovery to 6.4 million in 2021, but this was still well below pre-pandemic levels.

According to WHO, reductions in the reported number of people diagnosed with TB suggest that the number of people with undiagnosed and untreated TB has grown, resulting first in an increased number of TB deaths and more community transmission of infection and then, with some lag-time, increased numbers of people developing TB.

The number of people provided with treatment for RR-TB and multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) has also declined between 2019 and 2020. The reported number of people started on treatment for RR-TB in 2021 was 161 746, only about one in three of those in need.

"The report notes a decline in global spending on essential TB services from USUSD6 billion in 2019 to USUSD5.4 billion in 2021, which is less than half of the global target of USUSD13 billion annually by 2022. As in the previous 10 years, most of the funding used in 2021 (79per cent) was from domestic sources. In other low- and middle-income countries, international donor funding remains crucial," the WHO said.

The main source is the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (the Global Fund). The United States Government is the largest contributor of funding to the Global Fund and is also the largest bilateral donor; overall, it contributes close to 50 per cent of international donor funding for TB.

"The report provides important new evidence and makes a strong case on the need to join forces and urgently redouble efforts to get the TB response back-on-track to reach TB targets and save lives," said Dr Tereza Kasaeva, Director of WHO's Global TB Programme.

"This will be an essential tool for countries, partners and civil society as they review progress and prepare for the 2nd UN High Level Meeting on TB mandated for 2023,” Kasaeva said.

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