COVID-19 To Cause 1.4 Million TB Deaths

KNCV Tuberculosis (TB) Foundation (KNCV) has  warned of a spike TB deaths over the next five years due to failure to diagnose and treat new cases during the prevailing lockdwons being observed at a global level.

By Michael Gwarisa

Agnes Gebhard, technical director of KNCV said an estimated 20 percent more TB patients are expected to die between now and 2025 especially in low and middle income countries.

Millions of TB patients worldwide are fighting for their lives and now have to cope with COVID-19 as well. Extra support for these vulnerable people and their families is needed,”said Gebhard.

She added that just like COVID-19, TB knows no borders and worldwide, 1.5 million people, including 205,000 children, die of TB every year mainly in Africa and (Central) Asia. TB in most cases, damages the lungs, which also makes TB patients more vulnerable to the Coronavirus.

“In addition, Coronavirus has many indirect consequences for TB patients. Research from Stop TB  partnership predicts that between now and 2025, a staggering 6.3 million more people will develop TB and 1.4 million more people are expected to die, as cases during lockdown go undiagnosed and untreated. This will set back global efforts to end TB by five to eight years.

“We work in 11 countries and see with our own eyes that TB patients are not getting the care they need at this moment. We are very concerned about these people.”

The lockdowns, closed borders, and the fact that health care systems need almost all their capacity to fight the COVID-pandemic interfere with TB services, leading to fewer patients with presumptive TB failing to report themselves because they fear becoming infected with COVID-19 at the hospital. In many places active detection and testing of people with presumptive TB has come to a standstill. Support for patients at home is also under pressure because people are no longer allowed and afraid to walk on the street.

It has become difficult or sometimes even impossible to collect medication daily, or weekly, at a health facility, as patients commonly do in many countries. the production and supply of TB drugs and diagnostics are getting disrupted. As a result, many TB patients can’t continue their treatment appropriately, causing their TB symptoms to worsen, they may remain contagious to others and the right treatment can come too late.

 Gebhard  added that with timely and proper treatment, however, TB can be cured. KNCV is currently making every effort to support TB programs with alternative approaches to ensure all TB patients get their medicines without interruption of care. For example, by offering and helping to roll out digital solutions with which nurses can continue to support their patients. KNCV and its partners also contribute to ensuring that TB tests, if possible, are still carried out despite the pressure on health centers.

“TB is a disease of poverty and affects the most vulnerable people in many countries. The COVID pandemic is also hitting hardest among more impoverished populations worldwide. Moreover, without testing, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two diseases.

“We must prevent these people from becoming further affected and from having no access to TB tests, medicines, and care. ”

At the same time, KNCV is also committed to fighting COVID19. Because where the diseases reinforce each other, the TB and COVID19 experts do the same. Infection prevention and contact investigation are two pillars of TB control. These experiences are used worldwide to combat the COVID pandemic.

“We are committed to helping combat TB as well as COVID19, strengthening health systems to face both epidemics. To be able to do so, extra and continued support from institutional and bilateral donors as well as the general public are much needed.”

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