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Pandemic disruptions are responsible for the first increase in estimated tuberculosis deaths in more than a decade

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Estimated deaths from tuberculosis – the deadliest infectious disease until the emergence of Covid-19 – have increased for the first time in more than a decade last year, the World Organization said on Thursday. health, accusing serious disruptions in treatment and diagnosis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Using statistical models to help fill the gaps in TB screening and reporting, especially in developing countries, the United Nations health agency has estimated that around 1.5 million people have died. last year of illness. This is an increase from the 1.4 million deaths from tuberculosis estimated in 2019. Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that most commonly affects the lungs and is particularly dangerous for people living with HIV and those with immune system is weakened.

Covid-19 has caused 4.88 million confirmed deaths worldwide, including 1.88 million in 2020, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Unlike WHO TB data, the Johns Hopkins Covid-19 toll includes only officially confirmed deaths from the disease and likely under-represents the overall coronavirus toll, especially in developing countries, where the tests were poor.

If the WHO tuberculosis tally is correct, 2020 marked the first increase in deaths from tuberculosis worldwide since 2005.

The WHO report is one of the first to take stock of the consequences of the serious disruptions in the management and prevention of other infectious diseases caused by the pandemic, especially in developing countries. In late November or early December, WHO is due to release its report on the estimated malaria toll in 2020, which many public health experts expect to be an increase from the estimated 409,000 deaths from the mosquito-borne disease. in 2019.

Experts have also raised concerns about disruptions to routine immunizations for young children due to the pandemic, which could lead to an increase in epidemics of diseases such as measles in the years to come.

Strict closures, overwhelmed health systems and fear of catching Covid-19 prevented millions of people from getting tested or treated for tuberculosis last year, the WHO said. The number of people newly diagnosed with tuberculosis fell to 5.8 million in 2020, from 7.1 million in 2019, while the number of people seeking preventive treatment for the disease fell by 21% to 2.8 million . Around 150,000 people have been treated for drug-resistant tuberculosis, down 15% from 2019.

Disruptions in diagnosis and care for tuberculosis have been observed in India, among other countries.


Photo:

Anupam Nath / Associated press

The WHO has estimated that around 4.1 million people are currently infected with tuberculosis but have not been diagnosed, up from 2.9 million in 2019. The agency warned that its modeling suggests more people will develop it. tuberculosis and will die of the disease in 2021 and 2022, as well.

Disruptions in diagnosis and care were among the most severe in Gabon, where the number of notified tuberculosis cases fell by 80%; the Philippines, which recorded a drop of 37%; and Indonesia and India, where notifications fell by 31% and 25%, respectively.

The pandemic has also exacerbated long-standing funding problems in the fight against tuberculosis. Funding for TB diagnosis, treatment and prevention – already less than half of what WHO says is needed – fell 9% to $ 5.3 billion in 2020, as countries reoriented their resources to Covid-19.

“This is alarming news that must serve as a global wake-up call to the urgent need for investment and innovation to fill the gaps in diagnosis, treatment and care for the millions of people affected by this ancient disease. but preventable and treatable, ”said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Write to Nicholas Bariyo at nicholas.bariyo@wsj.com and Gabriele Steinhauser at gabriele.steinhauser@wsj.com

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