EDITORIAL - The 2nd deadliest disease

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - The 2nd deadliest disease

Last year, the official total death toll from COVID-19 was 1.8 million, although the World Health Organization estimates that the real toll stood at around 3.3 million. Another disease, meanwhile, claimed 1.5 million lives in 2020: tuberculosis. This made TB the second deadliest infectious disease after COVID.

TB is preventable and curable, with about 85 percent of patients getting well after six months of treatment. But the WHO’s latest Global TB report, released last week, showed an alarming spike in the death toll from tuberculosis in 2020. This was attributed by the WHO to fewer people being properly diagnosed and treated. The WHO noted that patients struggled to seek TB care amid pandemic lockdowns. Public health care resources, meanwhile, were poured into COVID response.

While other public health problems were sidelined by the urgency of containing COVID, the WHO noted that the impact on TB care was particularly severe. People living with HIV were among the most vulnerable, with 214,000 of them dying last year of TB, the WHO reported. It warned that the TB death toll could rise further this year and in 2022, with 4.1 million people – up from 2.9 million in 2019 – afflicted but undiagnosed or who have not officially reported their illness to national authorities.

As documented by the WHO, the biggest drops in TB notifications between 2019 and 2020 were recorded in India, Indonesia, the Philippines, China and 12 other countries, which accounted for 93 percent of the total global plunge in reporting. The Philippines is one of 30 countries with the highest TB burden.

While the world remains preoccupied with battling COVID-19, the WHO is urging its member states and the UN to continue pursuing the End TB Strategy and Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to reduce TB deaths by 90 percent and incidence by 80 percent by 2030, from baselines in 2015.

For 2018 to 2022, the WHO aims to treat 40 million TB patients, provide preventive treatment to 30 million, mobilize at least $2 billion for annual TB research and another $13 billion each year for universal access to diagnosis, treatment and care. While COVID-19 remains the most urgent public health concern, the world cannot ignore the second biggest killer disease.

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