At the recently concluded World TB on March 24, the Global Fund made an urgent call for the world to reignite the fight to end tuberculosis (TB) by 2030. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended years of progress in the fight against TB. Deaths from the disease rose for the first time in more than a decade, fueled by a surge in undiagnosed and untreated cases.
“If we fail to step up the fight against TB, we must accept that we are effectively abandoning the 2030 goal to end the disease as a public health threat,” said Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund. “We must mount a massive effort to diagnose people quickly and get them the necessary treatment. TB is deadly and is the top infectious disease killer after COVID-19.”
TB programs helped the COVID-19 response
In many countries, COVID-19 overwhelmed health systems, lockdowns disrupted service provision, and critical resources were diverted from the fight against HIV, TB, and malaria to fight the new pandemic.
But decades of effort fighting TB were not in vain. With the additional resources deployed, countries leveraged some of the best assets in the fight against TB to combat COVID-19. Community health workers, laboratories, diagnostic equipment, disease surveillance systems, and other TB investments put in place over the years gave countries a leg up in the fight against the new pandemic.
The Global Fund partnership has also supported the roll-out of bidirectional testing, where people are simultaneously screened and tested for TB and COVID-19. In the future, it is likely this approach will be expanded to other diseases.
“Community health workers are on the front line of detecting and treating diseases, whether that’s for COVID-19 or TB, HIV or malaria,” said Dr. Eliud Wandwalo, the Global Fund’s head of tuberculosis programs. “They are trusted members of the community and we have seen their critical role during the COVID-19 pandemic.