Pandemic puts global progress against tuberculosis at risk: WHO

LONDON (Reuters) – The COVID-19 pandemic is derailing global efforts to tackle tuberculosis (TB), the world’s deadliest infectious disease, with cases likely to rise without urgent action and investment, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

The WHO’s annual TB report found that tuberculosis killed some 1.4 million people in 2019, little changed from the 1.5 million deaths it caused in 2018. It warned that many countries are not on track to meet targets for successfully diagnosing and treating cases to try to stop the disease’s spread.

Disruptions in services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have led to major setbacks to TB programmes, the report found. In many countries, human, financial and other resources have been reallocated from TB to the COVID-19 response.

“Accelerated action is urgently needed worldwide if we are to meet our targets,” the WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement with the report.

Sharonann Lynch, a TB policy expert at the global health charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), said progress against the killer disease had been “dismally slow.”

“It’s disheartening to see that governments are not on track,” she said in a statement.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO’s report said, many countries had been making steady progress against TB, with a 9% reduction in incidence seen between 2015 and 2019 and a 14% drop in deaths in the same period.

The WHO’s ‘End TB Strategy’ aims to cut TB deaths by 90% and reduce the TB incidence rate by 80% by 2030 compared to a 2015 baseline. Interim targets for 2020 include a 20% reduction in incidence rates and a 35% reduction in deaths.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland, Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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