As the world continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the global response is having unintended yet drastic consequences on tuberculosis (TB) services, a study has said.
The new study, commissioned on Tuesday via a zoom meeting by Stop TB Partnership, is in collaboration with the Imperial College, Avenir Health and Johns Hopkins University, and was supported by USAID.
“Length of quarantine, movement restrictions and disruption of TB services could spell disaster for hundreds of thousands at risk,” the study said.
The modelling of the study was constructed on assumptions drawn from a rapid assessment done by The Stop TB Partnership on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Also, it related measures on the TB response in 20 high-burden TB countries representing 54 per cent of the global TB burden.
While focusing on three high burdened countries India, Kenya, and Ukraine, it extrapolated estimates from those countries to create global estimates of the impact of COVID-19 on TB.
In the study, the authors indicated that the model can be replicated in any other country.
They said the findings can be used by countries for data-driven decisions and financial requests.
“With lockdowns and limitations on diagnosis, treatment and prevention services expected to increase the annual number of TB cases and deaths over the next five years; at least five years of progress on TB response will be lost,” it said.
“The modeling 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,” it said.
At the meeting, the executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership said Lucica Ditiu, said TB, a respiratory disease, has remained the biggest infectious disease killer because the ‘TB agenda’ consistently became less visible in front of other priorities.
“We never learn from mistakes. For the past five years,” she said.
“Today, governments face a torturous path, navigating between the imminent disaster of COVID-19 and the long-running plague of TB,” Ms Ditiu said
She said 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.
Another statement by TB Partnership on Wednesday highlighted that in 2018, during the UN General Assembly (UNGA) High-Level Meeting on TB, Heads of States and governments 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 statement said.
It said the COVID-19 pandemic, especially considering the mitigation measures put in place, has proven to be a major setback in achieving the UNGA targets.
This is because 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.
“TB is a forgotten respiratory disease that still kills 1.5 million people each year, more than any other infectious disease,” it said
The statement said 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 new study revealed that 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.
This implies that a setback of at least five to eight years in the fight against TB.
“To minimize 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,” the study said.
Call for support
Stop TB Partnership and partners in the meeting 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.
It advised the countries 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,” Ms Ditiu said.
“Recognizing 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,” she said
To ensure access to TB and COVID-19 resources, the Stop TB Partnership is sharing actions, experiences and recommendations from countries and partners through a dedicated TB and COVID-19 webpage and has recently published interactive maps with TB and COVID-19 situations in countries.
About the Stop TB Partnership
The Stop TB Partnership is a unique United Nations hosted entity based in Geneva, Switzerland, committed to revolutionizing tuberculosis (TB) space to end the disease by 2030.
The organisation aligns more than 2,000 partners worldwide to promote cross-sectoral collaboration.
The Stop TB Partnership’s various teams and initiatives take bold and smart risks to identify, fund and support innovative approaches, ideas, and solutions to ensure the TB community has a voice at the highest political levels and that all TB affected people have access to affordable, quality, and people-centered care.