World could see 1 million additional TB cases due to malnutrition after pandemic

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There could be an increase of 1 million cases of tuberculosis across the world, with India missing its target to eliminate the bacterial infection by 2025, said senior scientist of the World Health Organization and former director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Dr Soumya Swaminathan.

Tuberculosis affects an estimated 10 million people each year around the globe, killing 1.4 million. It is the leading infectious cause of death.

“The pandemic affected the TB programme globally, with GeneX pert machine (that can be used to perform RT-PCR tests) and staff being diverted to Covid-19 management. The lockdown and other restrictions also led to a decline in the GDP that, in turn, would increase undernutrition. This undernutrition might drive an additional 1 million cases of TB a year,” said Dr Swaminathan, during the recently concluded India International Science Festival.

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“TB notification dropped by 50 to 60% during the pandemic, which might result in higher cases in the future,” she said.

India reported 2.69 million cases of tuberculosis in 2019, accounting for 26% of the global burden of the infection. India had set a target to eliminate TB, defined as restricting new infections to less than one case per 100,000 people, by 2025.

“The pandemic has definitely affected India’s goal to end TB by 2025,” she said.

The pandemic, however, offered many lessons and forged collaborations with the private sector that can be used to find innovative solutions to help the country stick to its target of eliminating the bacterial infection, she said.

“There were a lot of innovations to address the challenges of Covid-19. Many of these innovations can be used for TB such as novel testing methods, contact tracing apps, creation of vaccine trial sites. The private sector also stepped up for manufacturing. These might help India in bringing the programme back on track,” she said.

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