An estimated 1.4 million fewer people received care for tuberculosis (TB) in 2020 than in 2019.
This was according to preliminary data compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO) from over 80 countries- a reduction of 21% from 2019.
“The disruption to essential services for people with TB is just one tragic example of the ways the pandemic is disproportionately affecting some of the world’s poorest people, who were already at higher risk for TB,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
“These sobering data point to the need for countries to make universal health coverage a key priority as they respond to and recover from the pandemic, to ensure access to essential services for TB and all diseases.”
Building up health systems so everyone can get the services they need is key.
One way to address this is through restored and improved TB screening to rapidly identify people with TB infection or TB disease.
New guidance issued by WHO on World TB Day aims to help countries identify the specific needs of communities, the populations at highest risk of TB, and the locations most affected to ensure people can access the most appropriate prevention and care services.
These include the use of molecular rapid diagnostic tests, the use of computer-aided detection to interpret chest radiography and the use of a wider range of approaches for screening people living with HIV for TB.
The recommendations are accompanied by an operational guide to facilitate roll-out.
But this will not be enough alone. In 2020, in his report to the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Secretary General issued a set of 10 priority recommendations that countries need to follow.
These include activating high-level leadership and action across multiple sectors to urgently reduce TB deaths; increasing funding; advancing universal health coverage for TB prevention and care; addressing drug resistance, promoting human rights and intensifying TB research.