An estimated 10.6 million people were diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) in 2021, a 4.5 percent increase from 2020 figures, according to the World Health Organization’s 2022 Global TB report.
The burden of drug-resistant TB (DR-TB) also increased by 3 percent between 2020 and 2021, with 450 000 new cases of rifampicin-resistant TB (RR-TB) in 2021.
This is the first time in many years an increase has been reported in the number of people falling ill with TB and drug-resistant TB.
TB services are among many others disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, but its impact on the TB response has been particularly severe.
“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. Let’s apply those lessons to tuberculosis. It is time to put a stop to this long-time killer. Working together, we can end TB,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
Continued challenges with providing and accessing essential TB services have meant that many people with TB were not diagnosed and treated. The reported number of people newly diagnosed with TB fell from 7.1 million in 2019 to 5.8 million in 2020. There was a partial recovery to 6.4 million in 2021, but this was still well below pre-pandemic levels.
Reductions in the reported number of people diagnosed with TB suggest that the number of people with undiagnosed and untreated TB has grown, resulting first in an increased number of TB deaths and more community transmission of infection and then, with some lag-time, increased numbers of people developing TB.
TB, the second (after COVID- 19) deadliest infectious killer, is caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) that most often affect the lungs. It can spread when people who are sick with TB expel bacteria into the air – for example, by coughing.
Most people who develop the disease are adults –in 2021 – men accounted for 56.5% of the TB burden, adult women accounted for 32.5% and children for 11%. Many new cases of TB are attributable to five risk factors: undernutrition, HIV infection, alcohol use disorders, smoking and diabetes.
TB is preventable and curable. About 85% of people who develop TB disease can be successfully treated with a 4/6-month drug regimen; treatment has the added benefit of curtailing onward transmission of infection.