WHO Says 10.6 Million People Infected With Tuberculosis in 2021

The World Health Organization (WHO) said 10.6 million people contracted tuberculosis in 2021 and 1.6 million people died of the disease within the same year.  The new number of infected people around the world exceeded the mark for many years, and many infected individuals have a strain that is resistant to conventional TB drugs.

WHO revealed that the 10.6 million TB cases recorded for 2021 was 4.5% above the number recorded for 2020; and that the 450,000 cases resistant to drugs are 3% more than the figure recorded for 2020. Health officials lamented that the United Nations had almost succeeded in wiping out tuberculosis, but the advent of COVID-19 reversed most of the gains achieved against the disease.

Health officials also stated that the COVID-19 pandemic made access to TB diagnosis and treatment harder for most people and that the progress made prior to 2019 was “slowed, stalled, or reversed.” To make matters worse, the disease continues to be spread to farther communities and countries by people who did not know they were infected.

WHO stated that about 7 million people were diagnosed with TB in 2019, and 5.8 million in 2020. The global health organization disclosed that many people infected with tuberculosis could not access medical treatments due to the physical and social safety protocols existent during the COVID-19 pandemic. The cost of treatment is also prohibitive and most TB patients cannot afford it, so they stay back in their homes where they end up infected by other people.

Tuberculosis is the deadliest infectious disease in the world, after COVID-19. It is caused by the ingestion or inhalation of bacteria tubercle bacilli and usually causes lesions in the lungs and other parts of the physical body. It can also spread in close proximity when an infected individual coughs or sneezes. It affects adults more, and most people with HIV usually have the disease.

While noting that drug-resistant TB is curable, a medical specialist with Doctors Without Borders in South Africa, Dr. Hannah Spencer, said there is hope for a complete cure for TB patients but that governments everywhere should work in synergy to bring down the total costs of curing the disease to about $500.

“Drug-resistant TB is curable, but alarmingly, cases are on the rise for the first time in years,” said Spencer said. “It’s urgent that shorter, safer, and more effective treatments are scaled up now.”

WHO said that as of now, only one in three people with drug-resistant TB is being treated. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine had one the highest cases of TB in the world, the UN health agency revealed. And the ongoing crisis has made it more difficult for patients to access TB treatment and drugs in the country. Other countries with high incident rates include India, Indonesia, Pakistan, and the Philippines.