On World Tuberculosis Day, the global community acknowledges the progress made and the challenges that lie ahead in fighting tuberculosis (TB). While COVID-19 has had a devastating global impact over the past year, TB has long been the world’s leading infectious disease killer and continues to kill more people in low-and middle-income countries than any other infectious disease. Despite being preventable and curable, TB sickens 10 million people and takes 1.4 million lives, year after year.
The world is soberly aware of COVID-19’s devastating toll and the first-order effects of the pandemic. As a second-order impact, however, the global TB response has been hit particularly hard. Over the past year, COVID-19 and associated measures to control it have severely impacted TB services in the world’s highest TB burden countries. In the 23 countries where USAID focuses TB programming, one million fewer people with TB had access to diagnosis and treatment in 2020, compared to 2019 — representing a 23 percent decline. As a result, the pandemic’s impact on TB is projected to sicken an additional 6.3 million people and cause an additional 1.4 million TB deaths between 2020 and 2025. New data from the World Health Organization estimates that half a million more people may have died from TB in 2020 alone.
The pandemic’s toll on the global TB response puts the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations — who are more likely to suffer from malnutrition and live in densely populated areas — at increased risk for both airborne infections. Recent data also shows that people with COVID-19 and TB are about three times more likely to die than those with only TB.
As the largest bilateral donor leading the global TB response, USAID remains committed to addressing the perfect storm created by COVID-19 and TB and ultimately, helping countries get back on track to meeting the United Nations High-Level Meeting on TB target of putting 40 million people on TB treatment by 2022. USAID is working with country governments and partners on urgent TB recovery efforts in the countries most impacted by COVID-19. Key to these efforts are inclusive responses by civil society and communities, who are able to identify and rapidly implement local solutions to simultaneously respond to both diseases. USAID’s 35 local partners working on TB have been critical in maintaining vital TB services throughout the pandemic.
As demonstrated over the past year, USAID’s TB investments build critical platforms to detect and prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other airborne infectious diseases. USAID will continue to build countries’ capacities to respond to both TB and COVID-19 with support for bi-directional testing for both diseases, joint contact investigation and community screenings, and implementing infection prevention and control measures — providing a vital platform to address both diseases, respond to future airborne pandemics, and ultimately, save lives.