According to researchers, it is a worrying side effect of the introduced corona lockdowns.

A prediction made by researchers at the start of the corona pandemic has unexpectedly come true. As early as 2020, experts warned that due to corona lockdowns, some infectious diseases would resurface. And in particular, the number of deaths from tuberculosis would rise sharply. Now, a year and a half later, researchers are taking stock. And that dire prediction turns out to have indeed come true.

More about tuberculosis
Tuberculosis (TB) is the second most deadly infectious disease on Earth after COVID-19. The disease is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which most often affects the lungs. Tuberculosis is usually transmitted through the air by a patient with (infectious) pulmonary tuberculosis. Coughing causes the bacteria to enter the environment from the lungs via small droplets. These small droplets can then end up in someone else’s alveoli when inhaled. About 90 percent of those who get TB each year live in just 30 countries: Angola, Bangladesh, Brazil, Central African Republic, China, Congo, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Mongolia, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Thailand, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Vietnam and Zambia.

It’s disturbing news. Because in recent years, the number of people who contracted TB and died from it had actually decreased sharply. This is because, especially in countries where TB is common, more time and money has been made available for early diagnosis of the disease, which also means that appropriate treatment can be started in good time.


But last year attention was focused on something else: the corona pandemic. And that meant that fewer resources were available to fight tuberculosis. For example, in many countries personnel, as well as financial and other resources, have been transferred from TB control to COVID-19, severely limiting the availability of essential services. Incidentally, not only were fewer people treated with tuberculosis, the range of preventive treatments also fell sharply. About 2.8 million people used it in 2020, a 21 percent decrease since 2019.


The lockdowns that have been introduced are also on top of that. This made it difficult for many people to find the right care. This led to many people with TB not being diagnosed with the disease in 2020. For example, the number of official diagnoses fell from 7.1 million in 2019 to just 5.8 million in 2020.


It has worrisome consequences. Because these things have meant that the number of deaths from tuberculosis has not been as high in ten years as it is now. According to researchers, about 1.5 million people died from the infectious disease in 2020. And that means the COVID-19 pandemic has now wiped out years of progress in fighting tuberculosis in one fell swoop.

Wake up call

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, calls the disturbing news a wake-up call. “This alarming news highlights the urgent need for investment and innovation to close the gaps in diagnosis, treatment and care for the millions of people affected by this ancient but preventable and treatable disease,” he said in a statement. . In addition, tuberculosis is curable. About 85 percent of people who get the disease can be successfully treated with drugs. Such treatment has the additional advantage that the further transmission of the infection is reduced.

The study calls on countries to take urgent measures to restore access to essential TB services. The researchers also call for a doubling of investment in TB research and innovation, as well as concerted action in the health and other sectors to address the social, environmental and economic determinants of TB and its impacts. “We have only one year left to reach the historically established TB targets set by heads of state at the first UN meeting,” said Tereza Kasaeva, director of the WHO’s Global TB Programme. “This report provides important information and is a strong reminder for countries to bring their attention back to TB and save lives.”