Friday, 19 August, 2022
HomeHealthDeaths from tuberculosis are on the rise for the first time in...

Deaths from tuberculosis are on the rise for the first time in a decade, WHO survey shows

In 2020, two-thirds of new cases were in just eight countries: India, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh and South Africa.

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  • Deaths from tuberculosis (TB) have risen for the first time in a decade, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The World Health Organization estimates the number of people developing TB and dying from the disease could be much higher in 2021 and 2022.
  • Dr. Tereze Kasaeva, Director of the WHO’s Global Tuberculosis Programme, explains what TB is and how to stay safe.

“The struggle to end TB is not just a struggle against a single disease. It’s also the struggle to end poverty, inequity, unsafe housing, discrimination and stigma, and to extend social protection and universal health coverage.”

So says World Health Organization Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in the WHO’s Global Tuberculosis report 2021.

“If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that health is a human right, not a luxury for those who can afford it.”

Deaths from TB have risen during the COVID-19 pandemic – and for the first time in a decade, according to the WHO, with 1.5 million people dying from Tuberculosis in 2020 (of which 214,000 were HIV positive).


Also read: New hurdle in India’s TB fight — states left with machines they can’t use


What is tuberculosis?

Until COVID-19, TB was the main cause of death from a single infectious agent, higher even than HIV/AIDS. Unlike COVID-19, it’s a bacterial rather than virus-caused illness.

TB’s been around for thousands of years, but the bacteria that causes it – Mycobacterium tuberculosis – was only discovered in 1882. It’s spread when people who are ill expel the bacteria into the air, through coughing or sneezing.

“Both TB and COVID-19 primarily affect the lungs,” says Dr. Tereze Kasaeva, Director of the WHO’s Global Tuberculosis Programme in the latest WHO Science in 5 video.

and COVID-19 primarily affect the lungs,” says Dr. Tereze Kasaeva, Director of the WHO’s Global Tuberculosis Programme in the latest WHO Science in 5 video.

and COVID-19 primarily affect the lungs,” says Dr. Tereze Kasaeva, Director of the WHO’s Global Tuberculosis Programme in the latest WHO Science in 5 video.

“Patients with tuberculosis, in cases where they’ve got COVID-19, will have more severe COVID-19 and the risk of less successful treatment is higher.”

Symptoms can be similar to COVID-19 and include coughing (sometimes with blood), fever, night sweats, or weight loss.

Who does TB affect?

One in four people in the world is infected with the bacteria, meaning a higher risk of developing disease, according to the WHO, but not everyone with it becomes ill.

Most cases (90%) of TB occur in adults – and those with compromised immune systems, such as people with HIV, diabetes, or malnutrition, have a higher risk of becoming ill.

It occurs in all parts of world, but some places have a higher burden of disease. In 2020, two-thirds of new cases were in just eight countries: India, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh and South Africa.

According to the WHO, the burden of HIV-associated TB is highest in Africa, where 85% of TB patients in 2020 had a documented HIV test result.


Also read: Covid could derail India’s pledge to eliminate tuberculosis by 2025 — ICMR medical journal


Why are Tuberculosis deaths rising and what can be done?

It can be successfully treated with a 6-month course of drugs, but diagnosis has dropped due to the healthcare disruption of the pandemic, says Dr. Kasaeva.

“We can see significant drops in TB diagnosis notification and it means that access is limited… People are not receiving timely life-saving treatment and the transmission of the infection is continued.”

The only licensed vaccine for prevention of Tuberculosis disease – the bacille Calmette-Guérin or BCG – was developed 100 years ago, and prevents severe forms of TB in children, says the WHO.

As yet, there is no vaccine effective in preventing TB disease in adults, but results from a Phase II trial of the M72/AS01E candidate have shown promise.

Dr. Kasaeva encourages those with Tuberculosis to follow their doctor’s advice during the pandemic, as well as the principles of good hygiene, ventilation, mask wearing and cough etiquette.

“Get yourself tested for both TB and COVID-19 if you have symptoms like coughing, high fever, and difficulties in breathing… You should be tested for TB if you have history in your family or close contacts with Tuberculosis and you’ve been tested with a TB infection.”

Watch the WHO’s Science in 5: Tuberculosis and COVID-19 here:

Kate Whiting, Senior Writer, Formative Content

The article was originally published on the World Economic Forum. You can read it here.


Also read: New hurdle in India’s TB fight — states left with machines they can’t use


 

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