A non-governmental organisation, Stop TB Partnership, has projected an additional 6.3 million cases of tuberculosis between 2020 and 2025 and 1.4 million more TB deaths during the same period as a result of global COVID-19 lockdowns.
According to a statement by the group, a report released on Wednesday found that the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic was having unintended drastic consequences on tuberculosis services.
It stated that lockdowns and limitations on diagnosis, treatment, and prevention services were expected to increase the annual number of TB cases and deaths over the next five years such that “at least five years of progress on TB response will be lost.”
The report added, “The modelling analysis released by the Stop TB Partnership shows that under a three-month lockdown and a protracted 10-month restoration of services, the world could see an additional 6.3 million cases of TB between 2020 and 2025 and an additional 1.4 million TB deaths during that same period.”
The Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership, Dr Lucica Ditiu, was quoted as saying, “We never learn from mistakes. For the past five years, TB, a respiratory disease, has remained the biggest infectious disease killer because the ‘TB agenda’ consistently became less visible in front of other priorities.
Today, governments face a torturous path, navigating between the imminent disaster of COVID-19 and the long-running plague of TB. But choosing to ignore TB again would erase at least half a decade of hard-earned progress against the world’s most deadly infection and make millions more people sick.”
The study was reportedly commissioned by the Stop TB Partnership in collaboration with the Imperial College, Avenir Health and Johns Hopkins University, and was supported by USAID.
The statement read, “The modelling was constructed on assumptions drawn from a rapid assessment done by The Stop TB Partnership on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and related measures on the TB response in 20 high-burden TB countries — representing 54 per cent of the global TB burden.
The modeling focused on three high burden countries — India, Kenya, and Ukraine — and extrapolated estimates from those countries to create global estimates of the impact of COVID-19 on TB. The authors note that the model can be replicated in any other country and that the findings can be used by countries for data-driven decisions and financial requests.
TB is a forgotten respiratory disease that still kills 1.5 million people each year, more than any other infectious disease. Incidence and deaths due to TB have been declining steadily over the last several years as a result of intensified activities by high burden countries to find people with TB early and provide appropriate treatment.”
The group noted that, in 2018, during the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on TB, heads of state and government committed to significantly scale up the TB response.
“In 2018, this resulted in identifying an additional 600,000 people who could access TB care. In 2019, we also saw very promising progress.
“The COVID-19 pandemic, especially considering the mitigation measures put in place, has proven to be a major setback in achieving the UNGA targets, as TB case detection has dramatically fallen, treatments have often been delayed and the risk of interruption of treatment and potential increase of people with drug-resistant TB has increased
According to the new study, with a three-month lockdown and a protracted 10-month restoration of services, global TB incidence and deaths in 2021 would increase to levels last seen in between 2013 and 2016, respectively, implying a setback of at least five to eight years in the fight against TB.
The group said, “To minimise the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on TB, save millions of lives and get the world back on track in achieving the UNGA targets, national governments need to take immediate measures that ensure the continuity of TB diagnostic, treatment and prevention services during the lockdown period and undertake a massive catch-up effort to actively diagnose, trace, treat and prevent TB.
Stop TB Partnership and partners call upon the leadership of all countries—particularly those with high TB burdens—to ensure the continuity of the TB response in the time of COVID-19, to take proactive measures that include those who are most vulnerable and to provide protection against economic hardship, isolation, stigma and discrimination. We urge governments to secure the human and financial resources needed for seamless continuation of TB services amid the COVID-19 response.
“Recognising that this is an unprecedented situation, the Stop TB Partnership is continuing support for national TB Programmes and partners through its multiple technical, innovative and people-centered platforms.
It added that, to ensure access to TB and COVID-19 resources, the Stop TB Partnership was sharing actions, experiences and recommendations from countries and partners through a dedicated TB and COVID-19 webpage and had recently published interactive maps with TB and COVID-19 situations in countries.