Oct 14, 2021 - Health

WHO: Tuberculosis deaths rise for 1st time in over a decade due to COVID

A doctor checks the chest X-ray of a patient in the tuberculosis (TB) department of the government-run Osmania General Hospital in Hyderabad, India.

A doctor checks the chest X-ray of a patient in Hyderabad, India. Photo: Noah Seelam/AFP via Getty Images

The number of deaths from tuberculosis rose last year for the first time in more than a decade, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

Why it matters: The data underscores the COVID-19 pandemic's toll on tackling other, preventable diseases worldwide.

Driving the news: The WHO said the uptick in deaths from tuberculosis is largely driven by fewer people getting tested and treated for the disease due to the health care system's focus on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • "This report confirms our fears that the disruption of essential health services due to the pandemic could start to unravel years of progress against tuberculosis,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.

By the numbers: Approximately 1.5 million people died globally from tuberculosis in 2020, a slight increase from the total number of deaths in 2019, when 1.4 million people died, AP reports.

  • The WHO also said fewer people were newly diagnosed with TB in 2020, with 5.8 million diagnoses in 2020 compared with 7.1 million in 2019.
  • An estimated 4 million people suffer from TB but have not yet been diagnosed, the global agency said.

What they're saying: "This is alarming news that must serve as a global wake-up call to the urgent need for investments and innovation to close the gaps in diagnosis, treatment and care for the millions of people affected," Tedros said.

Go deeper: The pandemic's disruption of key health procedures could prove deadly

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