COVID-19 pandemic could increase the global burden of tuberculosis
PESHAWAR: The global COVID-19 pandemic could significantly increase the global burden of tuberculosis (TB) due to disruptions to health services, and delays to diagnosis and treatment, according to new estimates published in the European Respiratory Journal.
Before COVID-19, over 4,000 people were dying from TB every day. In countries where health services are strained, there is a fear that TB cases and deaths could rise significantly.
Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Lancaster University estimated additional TB deaths and cases over the next five years. They examined the impact of various reductions in social contacts and impacts on health services due to COVID-19.
The researchers hypothesised that social distancing might reduce TB incidence as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria which causes the disease, is transmitted via droplets in the air - similar to the coronavirus, Medical News reported.
However, even after taking into account this potential reduced TB transmission, the most likely scenario was estimated to result in more than 110,000 additional TB deaths.
In the worst case scenario where the impact of COVID-19 on health services is severe, this number could rise up to 200,000 additional deaths.
"There is concern that the COVID-19 pandemic is resulting in decreased TB clinic attendance, delayed diagnosis and treatment. This is especially so in low- and middle-income countries where health services, or access to them, might be substantially disrupted," said Dr Finn McQuaid, First Author, Assistant Professor in Infectious Disease Epidemiology at LSHTM.
Dr McQuaid explained: "We need to act now to ensure innovative approaches to people-centric TB care are the focus, so that the fight to end this pandemic doesn't overwrite the hard-won gains made against this disease.
"It is also important to note that the decline of health services is likely to have a greater impact on drug-resistance TB patients, as they often require longer treatment. Additionally, we examined social distancing measures over a six month period, but with the potential of subsequent waves of the virus, the impact could last longer." - APP