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One of the World’s Biggest Killers Is on the Rise Again

One of the world's worst illnesses is once more on the rise. The World Health Organization released a new report this week that reveals 2021 saw an increase in tuberculosis and drug-resistant tuberculosis cases worldwide, marking the first such increase in years. The COVID-19 pandemic is a significant factor in its reappearance.

The WHO's most recent Global Tuberculosis Report, published on Thursday, provides the bad news. According to the survey, there were 10.6 million occurrences of the bacterial illness in 2021, which is a 4.5% increase from 2020. Additionally, 1.6 million people died from tuberculosis last year, with approximately 200,000 of those fatalities occurring among HIV-positive individuals. The 13th biggest cause of mortality worldwide, according to the WHO, is tuberculosis.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis is the cause of TB. It mainly affects the lungs and is carried from person to person through the air, though the germs can spread to other body regions. Chest aches, chills, and coughing up blood are typical respiratory symptoms of acute TB cases. However, it's also possible for an infection to go undetected for years before manifesting symptoms when the immune system is compromised by another factor. Due to their increased risk of developing an acute, life-threatening illness, HIV patients are particularly susceptible to TB.

Before the pandemic started in late 2019, TB was one of the leading causes of suffering and death worldwide, with the burden being most severe in portions of Southeast Asia and Africa. Up until 2021, however, there had been only incremental improvement in the number of current cases. Antibiotic resistance has become a major issue in the fight against TB, just like it has with many other bacterial illnesses. The prevalence of drug-resistant tuberculosis increased by 3% last year, with 450,000 cases resistant to the antibiotic rifampicin, one of only two front-line treatments for TB.

People are thought to have sought less medical services because of the pandemic, which may have avoided the emergence of latent TB infections or allowed for the diagnosis and treatment of acute cases. It might have, however, also consumed money that would have otherwise gone toward fighting TB. The research states that the amount spent globally on basic TB services decreased from $US6 ($8) billion in 2019 to $US5.4 ($7) billion in 2021, neither of which reaches the WHO's recommended worldwide target of $US13 ($18) billion in yearly spending.

Some small victories in recent years have been achieved. The fact that governments exceeded the WHO's goal and treated roughly 10 million HIV-positive individuals for preventative TB between 2018 and 2022 is perhaps most notable. However, WHO experts warn that the success against TB risks eroding further in the absence of increased funding and commitment from nations and other partners worldwide.

According to Tereza Kasaeva, head of the WHO's Global TB Program, "the study contains significant new evidence and makes a strong argument on the need to band together and quickly redouble efforts to get the TB response back-on-track to reach TB targets and save lives."


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COVID-19 Global Tuberculosis Report HIV-positive World Health Organization


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