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The coronavirus pandemic has hit the world in more ways than one can imagine. From hurting the economy to affecting healthcare, the ongoing pandemic has the world on its knees. Patients suffering from the dreaded Tuberculosis have also been hit hard due to the current crisis.
What is Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, or TB, is a contagious infection, usually in the lungs. The infection can also spread to other parts of our body, like the brain and spine. It is caused by a type of bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Though curable and preventable, TB is one of the leading causes of death.
TB spreads through the air. When an infected patient coughs, sneezes, or spits, germs are propelled into the air. Inhalation of just a few of these germs is enough to infect a healthy person. A person infected with the bacteria has a 5-15% chance of falling ill with TB. People with a compromised immune system, malnutrition, diabetes, or people who use tobacco are at a higher risk.
There are two forms of the Disease, Latent and Active. Latent TB means the person has the germs, but no symptoms and isn’t contagious. Active TB occurs when germs multiply making the person sick. The person suffering is contagious and can spread the disease. TB can also be drug-resistant, which means, certain medicines will not work against the bacteria.
Latent TB will show no symptoms. However, Active TB will include a cough that lasts for more than 3 weeks, coughing up blood, chest pain, tiredness, night sweats, fever, loss of appetite, chills, and weight loss.
TB in the Current Scenario
Due to the disruption caused by the current pandemic, the WHO has warned of a drastic rise in deaths caused due to TB. Another factor that may cause this increase is a continued shortage of funds in global efforts to fight the disease. According to the organization, there was a substantial decrease in the reporting of new cases this year due to the lockdowns imposed by various countries.
The three countries with the highest-burden, India, the Philippines, and Indonesia, showed a significant drop of almost 30% in case notifications compared to the same period last year. These countries are also among the worst hit by the pandemic. According to WHO modeling, the decrease in notifications could lead to a higher number of deaths in the future.
Quick Action Required
According to the WHO, 2019 saw more than 1.4 million deaths caused by TB. The fight against TB is now being hampered by the coronavirus pandemic. Around 14 million people were treated for the disease during the year 2018-2019. WHO hopes to treat around 40 million people by the year 2022. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that urgent action is needed all over the globe to achieve these targets.
The most challenging aspect to achieve this goal is funding. As compared to the target of $13 billion, only $6.5 billion was raised for TB prevention, treatment, diagnosis, and care. According to data, almost 85% of those who contract the infection can be treated with a six-month drug course. More than 60 million deaths have been avoided since 2000 due to TB treatment.
Per WHO guidelines, countries have taken steps to lessen the impact of COVID-19 on TB services. Countries have increased the use of digital technology to give remote advice, oral treatment, and home treatment to ensure the fight against TB is on.
According to MSF senior adviser Sharonann Lynch, TB has burdened us through the course of our history and it is high time we got serious in tackling it.