The COVID-19 Pandemic and its Effects on the Preventative Measures and Treatment of Tuberculosis
Jaashvi Chandagari, John Champe High School, Aldie, Virginia, USA
Tuberculosis (TB) is an airborne disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium Tuberculosis that affects the lungs. Since the 1940s, the rates of TB worldwide have constantly been decreasing. According to the World Health Organization, TB incidence has been decreasing by about 2% every year and from 2015 to 2019, the cumulative TB reduction rate was 11% (World Health Organization, 2021). However, in recent years there has been an ominous spike in TB rates. The WHO believes that almost 10 million people have contracted TB and 1.5 million people have died in 2020 (Other Voices, 2022). This increase has disrupted the downward trend in TB rates in the previous years.
What might be the cause of this unordinary burst in TB rates? It could be concluded that it may be due to poor hygiene and conditions in developing countries. However, that may not be the only reason. Developing countries lack the funding to make their health system better, while developed countries have the funds needed to better improve their health care and implement measures to decrease rates of diseases like TB. The aid and programs created by developed countries to help those suffering from TB have been proven to be successful, but there's one thing that’s stopping countries from further investing in these programs: COVID-19.
Globally, close to one in two TB-affected households have to pay costs 20% more than what they earn to help treat their TB (WHO, 2021). In 2021, WHO estimated that, as of 2022, almost 13 billion dollars would be needed to prevent, diagnose, and treat TB globally (WHO, 2021). The direct cause of this need for finance for TB prevention is the amount of funding that has been going into preventing COVID-19 (Other Voices, 2022). In addition to the funding being reallocated, health care staff that had originally been tasked to focus on TB programs have been reassigned to focus on COVID-19-related duties (bioMérieux Editors, n.d.). The rise of COVID-19 has similarly hindered the progression of many global diseases. In a report written by Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, he describes the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Malaria prevention efforts (Ghebreyesus, 2021). The report states that the estimated number of malaria deaths stood at 627,000 in 2020 which is 69,000 more deaths than the previous year. Of all of these deaths, about two-thirds were caused by disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Funding is not the only problem, however. Due to lockdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many have struggled to seek needed health care. As services to prevent TB have been shifting to focus on COVID-19, fewer people are being diagnosed with TB. This means that many people who have TB, go undiagnosed, and pass their disease along to other people, creating a cycle. The number of people newly diagnosed with TB and those reported to national governments fell from 7.1 million in 2019 to 5.8 million in 2020 (WHO, 2021). Developing countries have been hit hard, as they had the least amount of people receiving treatment. For example, there was a 41% drop in the number of people with TB who went to get diagnosed in India (WHO, 2021). The developing countries must be protected from TB and other infectious diseases, even with the development of COVID-19.
COVID-19 is a serious issue and countries should not stop funding its prevention. However, other diseases cannot be neglected. Diseases like TB will not stop their effect on COVD-19. Instead of waiting, developed countries should allocate more finances to the Global Fund. Partners in Health, a nonprofit healthcare organization, request that 2 billion dollars be allocated to the Global Fund and another 1 billion dollars be allocated to the U.S International Development for Tuberculosis programs (Other Voices, 2022).
By increasing the funding for different Global Health and Tuberculosis Prevention programs, developed countries can meet the support and aid required for struggling families to get treated and diagnosed with TB. If not only the US, but other countries like the UK also increase their funding for these programs, much progress can be made in decreasing TB rates globally, while also focusing on the prevention of the recent pandemic.
It is important to have resources in every country to allow people to get diagnosed and treated for TB. A big reason that people are unable to receive treatment is that many caretakers and services have been moved to COVID-19. In addition, resources like vaccines have also significantly decreased since the COVID-19 pandemic. According to an article written by the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, there was a decrease in resources like preventative therapy coverage, access to TB testing, and treatment enrollment (McQuaid et al, 2021). The article also mentions an increase in treatment interruptions. By working together, countries can create a plan to relocate these services to better accommodate other global health diseases like TB. By providing more resources and services for the treatment of TB in developing countries, more people will be able to benefit from them.
Although it is imperative to redistribute resources, these resources should be redistributed based on which countries have the most TB rates. Many times, developing countries do not have the resources to provide care because they are all sent to those countries that are already developed. As this is the case for many diseases, there are large health disparities.
More focus must be put on TB before all the progress in previous years is reversed. TB will not be stopped by a new global disease on the rise. There must still be a focus on preventing and treating TB, as it remains a global health challenge that affects millions.
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