The number of tuberculosis cases is increasing for the first time in years

The number of tuberculosis cases is increasing for the first time in years

GENEVA (AP) – The number of people infected with tuberculosis, including drug-resistant tuberculosis, has risen worldwide for the first time in years, according to a World Health Organization report released Thursday.

The UN health agency said more than 10 million people worldwide were sick with tuberculosis in 2021, an increase of 4.5 percent compared to the previous year. About 1.6 million people died, it is said. The WHO said about 450,000 cases involved people infected with drug-resistant TB, 3% more than in 2020.

dr. Mel Spigelman, president of the nonprofit TB Alliance, said more than a decade of progress was lost when COVID-19 hit in 2020.

“Despite gains in areas such as preventive therapy, we still fall behind on almost all of the promises and goals related to tuberculosis,” Spigelman said.

The WHO also blamed COVID-19 for much of the rise in TB, saying the pandemic “continues to have a detrimental impact on access to TB diagnosis and treatment”. It said progress made before 2019 had since been “slowed, halted or reversed”.

With fewer people diagnosed with the highly contagious disease, more patients are unknowingly spreading TB to others in outbreaks that may not have been seen in countries with weak health systems.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the number of newly diagnosed people with tuberculosis fell from 7 million in 2019 to 5.8 million in 2020.

The WHO also said that restrictions related to COVID-19, including lockdowns and physical distancing protocols, have also hampered tuberculosis treatment services and may have caused some people to skip going to health facilities for fear of contracting the coronavirus. Officials added that the downturn in the global economy was also a factor, saying that about half of all TB patients and their families face “catastrophic total costs” for their treatment. WHO has called for more countries to cover all costs of TB diagnosis and treatment.

After COVID-19, tuberculosis is the deadliest infectious disease in the world. It is caused by bacteria that usually affect the lungs. Germs are mainly spread from person to person through the air, for example when an infected person coughs or rains.

Tuberculosis mainly affects adults, especially those who are malnourished or have other conditions such as HIV; more than 95% of cases are in developing countries.

According to a WHO report, only one in three people with drug-resistant TB receives treatment.

“Drug-resistant TB is treatable, but it is alarming that cases are on the rise for the first time in years,” said Dr Hannah Spencer, of Doctors Without Borders in South Africa. “There is an urgent need to scale up shorter, safer and more effective treatments now.”

Spencer called for lowering the cost of tuberculosis treatment so that a complete course of treatment costs no more than $500.

The WHO also said ongoing conflicts in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East have worsened the options for patients seeking TB diagnosis and treatment.

Ukraine had one of the world’s worst tuberculosis outbreaks even before Russia invaded the country in February. Health experts fear that the inability of patients to receive treatment could fuel the rise of drug-resistant tuberculosis across the region.

While TB patients displaced by war can seek care in Ukraine, the country has faced shortages of key drugs and authorities face challenges in tracking patients.


The Associated Press Department of Health and Science is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Division of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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