Covid-19 puts fight to eradicate TB on the back burner
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Cape Town - While the whole world’s focus is on Covid-19, tuberculosis (TB) cases have increased.
It has been a year since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, and new data shows that TB diagnosis and treatment of TB infections in 2020 has declined.
According to the Stop TB Partnership, nine of the countries with the most cases representing 60% of the world’s TB burden, saw an extreme drop ranging from 16% to 41%.
Executive director at Stop TB, Lucica Ditiu, said 12 years of progress in the fight against TB, including the number of people who were not on TB care, have been reversed by another deadly respiratory infection.
“In the process, we put the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in jeopardy.
“I hope that in 2021 we buckle up and we smartly address, at the same time, TB and Covid-19 as two airborne diseases with similar symptoms,” said Ditiu.
South Africa is among the nine countries with the most cases.
Stop TB said in a statement, in addition to the worldwide drop in TB diagnosis and treatment, data emerging from India and South Africa shows that people infected with TB and Covid-19 have three times higher mortality than people with TB alone.
This makes contact tracing, case finding and bi-directional TB and Covid-19 testing essential.
Stop TB board member Thokozile Phiri Nkhoma said after less than a year, a vaccine has been developed and is now being deployed to help contain and hopefully end the Covid-19 pandemic.
She said although TB has been around for a very long time the only approved vaccine is 100 years old and doesn’t fully work especially in adults.
“First-line TB treatment for TB is several decades old, and drug resistance is on the rise, while the millions of people with TB who are not found and treated remain at risk of spreading the disease,” she said.
The statement said projections showed that at the global level, a three-month lockdown followed by a protracted 10-month restoration could lead to an additional 6.3 million cases of TB between 2020 and 2025 and an additional 1.4 million TB deaths during this time.
“Global TB incidence and deaths in 2021 would increase to levels last seen in between 2013 and 2016, respectively implying an estimated setback of at least 5 to 8 years in the fight against TB due to the Covid-19 pandemic”.
Stop TB calls for global investment in TB outreach and treatment in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Further to this, the world needs to strategically prepare for future airborne pandemics building on the investments and strategies in TB response, including infection control; bi-directional testing and contact tracing; communities, civil society networks and primary health care as diagnosis entry points; and expanding the laboratory networks to support integrated approaches to tackling TB and Covid-19.
Spokesperson for the Western Cape Department of Health Byron La Hoe said the pandemic has had a major impact on both the demand and supply-side of health service delivery, resulting in substantial declines in TB testing and identification of those with TB in the province.
“The health services response to Covid-19 has demonstrated our ability to be a more agile and responsive service. We aim to learn from the opportunities presented by Covid-19 to benefit our health services,” he said.
La Hoe added that through implementing strategies, programmes and innovation, the Western Cape Government will ensure that TB continues to be a high priority.