By Jennifer Rigby
LONDON (Reuters) – The global fight against tuberculosis (TB), badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, is beginning to recover but remains a long way off target, according to a World Health Organization report.
During the first two years of the pandemic, there were around 4 million “missing” TB patients per year, meaning people who developed TB but who were not diagnosed or treated. That gap narrowed to around 3.1 million in 2022, the U.N. agency’s annual report estimated, back to the pre-pandemic level of 2019.
However, a lack of funding and focus continues to stymie efforts to end what has been described as the “pandemic of the poor”. TB, an infectious disease which usually attacks the lungs, is both preventable and curable.
In total, an estimated 10.6 million people fell ill with TB in 2022, up from 10.3 million in 2021. But 7.5 million were diagnosed – meaning they could access suitable treatment – the highest figure since monitoring began in 1995, the WHO said.
TB-related deaths also fell slightly, from 1.4 million in 2021 to 1.3 million in 2022. The disease remains just behind COVID-19 as the world’s deadliest infectious illness, with India, Indonesia and the Philippines particularly badly affected by TB.
The multi-drug resistant form of the illness is also still a significant public health threat, the WHO said, with only about two in five able to obtain the treatment they need.
But WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there was hope after millennia of suffering, with progress made on diagnostics, drugs, and the first new vaccine for 100 years in the final stage of trials.
“We have an opportunity… to write the final chapter in the story of TB,” he said in an emailed statement.
However the agency acknowledged that this would need “all hands on deck” with a slew of targets missed in the 2015-2022 period, including on funding, diagnosis rates and reducing fatalities. A UN-high level meeting in September set new targets for the 2023-2027 period.
(Reporting by Jennifer Rigby, Editing by William Maclean)