By Chioma Obinna
On World Tuberculosis Day, new data released by the Global fund Surveys in 13 countries with the highest TB burden has shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the fight against TB, another deadly airborne disease.
The survey also revealed that 29 per cent fewer people were tested for TB compared to 2019.
Worse, in those same countries, there were 45 per cent fewer people tested for multidrug-resistant TB – one of the most frightening forms of antimicrobial resistance.
It also noted that as COVID-19 spread around the world in 2020, health workers, testing machines, laboratories and health centres were diverted from existing diseases like TB to fight the new pandemic. Without treatment, a single person with TB can infect 10-15 other people over the course of a year, or die.
Executive Director of the Global Fund, Peter Sands said: “The fewer people we find, test and treat the more TB cases and deaths there will be, and the higher the risk of multidrug-resistant TB spreading worldwide.”
“To end both COVID-19 and TB as epidemics, we must fight both diseases at the same time, increasing investments in the same tools, health workers and systems for health needed to fight TB and COVID-19 and prepare for future airborne pandemics.”
Results from 2020 show this is possible. The same tools the Global Fund partnership has built to fight TB are now being used to fight COVID-19, and emergency funding from the Global Fund to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on HIV, TB and malaria programs and reinforce systems for health has helped countries to continue to fight TB at the same time as fighting COVID-19.
For example, while testing levels plummeted in India and Bangladesh in the first months after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they were able to rebound towards the end of 2020 and to test and treat nearly the same number of TB patients as they were pre-COVID.
Countries have also accelerated innovative new approaches to fight TB, such as transitioning to all-oral treatment regimens.