The number of tuberculosis cases and deaths in 2021 increased from the previous year as the COVID pandemic disrupted medical services globally, the World Health Organization says.
About 10.6 million people fell ill with TB in 2021, a 4.5% increase from 2020, according to the WHO’s Global TB Report 2022. The number of people dying from TB rose to 1.6 million in 2021, compared to 1.5 million in 2020. The number of drug-resistant TB cases went up 3%.
This is the first time the number of TB cases and drug-resistant TB cases has gone up in a number of years, the WHO said in a news release.
“TB services are among many others disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, but its impact on the TB response has been particularly severe,” the news release said. “Ongoing conflicts across Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East have further exacerbated the situation for vulnerable populations.”
TB is a contagious infection that usually attacks the lungs. After COVID-19, it’s the world’s deadliest infectious killer, the WHO says.
The difficulty in receiving medical treatment during the pandemic meant many people were not diagnosed with TB and not treated for the illness, the WHO said. In 2019, before the pandemic, 7.1 million new cases were diagnosed. That number fell to 5.8 million in 2020 but rebounded slightly to 6.4 million in 2021.
The report noted several small gains. Preventive TB treatment for people living with HIV reached more than 10 million people from 2018 to 2021, exceeding the global target of 6 million people. (People with HIV are highly susceptible to TB.)
Most TB cases reported in 2021 occurred in “high burden” nations in the WHO regions of Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Western Pacific. WHO officials said health organizations need to make TB prevention a high priority again.
“The report provides important new evidence and makes a strong case on the need to join forces and urgently redouble efforts to get the TB response back-on-track to reach TB targets and save lives,” Tereza Kasaeva, MD, director of the WHO’s Global TB Program, said in a statement.
World Health Organization: “Global Tuberculosis Report 2022,” “Tuberculosis deaths and disease increase during the COVID-19 pandemic.”