Scanning electron micrograph of Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria, which cause TB. — National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/NIAID/Flickr

Global deaths from tuberculosis (TB) are estimated to have increased between 2019 and 2021, reversing years of decline as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic severely derailed efforts to tackle the disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

Global efforts to tackle deadly diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria have suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. The health crisis has particularly hit the response to TB and led countries to fall behind in meeting targets to curb the infectious disease.

WHO urged the world to apply lessons learned from the pandemic to tuberculosis, which severely affects countries such as India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Pakistan.

“If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that with solidarity, determination, innovation and the equitable use of tools, we can overcome severe health threats,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

WHO’s annual TB report estimates that tuberculosis killed 1.6 million people in 2021, above the estimated 1.5 million deaths in 2020, and 1.4 million deaths in 2019. Deaths related to tuberculosis had fallen between 2005 and 2019.

The report also warns that in the near future TB could replace COVID-19 to become the leading cause of death worldwide from a single infectious agent.

A recent report from Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria shows that while the number of people reached with treatment and prevention efforts rebounded last year, the world is still not on track to defeat these killer diseases.

About 10.6 million people were infected with tuberculosis in 2021, an increase of 4.5% from 2020, according to the WHO report.

Under its “End TB Strategy,” the WHO set a target of reducing TB deaths by 35% from 2015 to 2020, but the net reduction was 5.9% between 2015 and 2021. — Reuters