By Muluken Melese and Andre Zagorski
  • Although tuberculosis (TB) is a curable disease and cases are going down, for the first time in a decade deaths are up.
  • COVID-19 has derailed targets to reduce TB infections. But the pandemic has also brought three lessons on how to tackle TB.
  • Masks and social distancing aren’t just tools to fight off COVID and normalising them in society can also help stop the spread of other diseases.

Tuberculosis (TB) is a curable disease. Yet deaths are up – for the first time in a decade – despite cases being down.

Why? Because the coronavirus threw a spanner in the works.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that in 2020 the number of TB deaths reached levels last seen in 2017 despite the number of cases falling by 1.3-million between 2019 and 2020. This, they say, means that the world is unlikely to reach its targets of reducing TB infections by 20% or ending TB deaths by 2030.

The situation is yet more collateral damage from a pandemic we were unprepared for, seeing countries enforcing strict lockdowns and healthcare resources being diverted from established public healthcare programmes to urgently fight a new disease, which left many people unable to access TB testing or treatment.