WHO: Tuberculosis cases rise for the first time in years

The number of people infected with tuberculosis, including the kind resistant to drugs, rose globally for the first time in years, according to a report Thursday by the World Health Organization.

The U.N. health agency said more than 10 million people worldwide were sickened by tuberculosis in 2021, a 4.5% rise from the year before. About 1.6 million people died, it said. WHO said about 450,000 cases involved people infected with drug-resistant TB, 3% more than in 2020.

Dr. Mel Spigelman, president of the non-profit TB Alliance, said more than a decade of progress was lost when COVID-19 emerged in 2020.

“Despite gains in areas like preventative therapy, we are still behind in just about every pledge and goal regarding TB,” Spigelman said.

WHO also blamed COVID-19 for much of the rise in TB, saying the pandemic “continues to have a damaging impact on access to TB diagnosis and treatment.” It said progress made before 2019 has since “slowed, stalled or reversed.”

With fewer people being diagnosed with the highly infectious disease, more patients unknowingly spread tuberculosis to others in outbreaks that may not have been spotted in countries with weak health systems.

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