The pandemic had a devastating impact on efforts to battle tuberculosis, with TB hospitals taken over for Covid treatment and lockdowns preventing patients from coming in for diagnosis and care.

While billions of dollars were being thrown at the Covid fight, global economic woes and swelling geopolitical tensions prompted top donors towards the TB battle to tighten their purse-strings.
While billions of dollars were being thrown at the Covid fight, global economic woes and swelling geopolitical tensions prompted top donors towards the TB battle to tighten their purse-strings. (AP Archive)

There's no good news here. 

After a concerted global effort, Covid-19 deaths have come down. But another deadly disease, which was ignored in the last few years, requires immediate attention. 

Tuberculosis or TB has once again emerged as the world's biggest infectious killer.

Mel Spigelman, president of the non-profit TB Alliance, hailed the swift and dramatic progress to rein in the Covid pandemic, with a vast array of safe and effective vaccines, tests and treatments developed in the space of two years.

"But the juxtaposition with TB is pretty stark," he told AFP in an interview.

READ MORE: Focus on Covid-19 undermines fight against other lethal diseases

Tuberculosis, once called consumption, was the world's biggest infectious killer before the arrival of Covid-19, with 1.5 million people dying from the disease each year.

With global Covid deaths steadily declining, "TB has regained the dubious distinction," Spigelman said.

The TB Alliance, which is working to develop and deliver faster-acting and affordable drugs against the disease, especially in poorer countries, points out that based on the annual death rate, TB kills 4,109 people a day.

That compares to 1,449 people a day dying due to Covid, calculated from the 40,578 deaths reported in the past 28 days on the Johns Hopkins University dashboard.

READ MORE: WHO: Covid-19 slowing global fight against tuberculosis

'Major setback'

But unlike Covid, there appears to be little, and even waning, interest in taking on TB.

In fact, the pandemic had a devastating impact on efforts to battle tuberculosis, with TB hospitals taken over for Covid care, and lockdowns preventing patients from coming in for diagnosis and care.

As a result, the number of annual TB deaths swelled for the first time in a decade in 2020.

"We went from what I honestly consider to be unbelievably slow progress, but at least progress, to a reversal," Spigelman said. "It has been a major setback."

READ MORE: How a tuberculosis vaccine may protect diabetics against Covid-19

While billions of dollars were being thrown at the Covid fight, global economic woes and swelling geopolitical tensions prompted top donors towards the TB battle to tighten their purse-strings.

Most of the TB Alliance donors suddenly could not commit more than a year of funding at a time and slashed the amounts given, with traditional top donor Britain providing no funding at all this year.

Spigelman blamed the lacking urgency around rooting out TB on it being "a disease of the poor".

"If rich people around the world were getting it, I think we would see a very different response," he said.

READ MORE: Tuberculosis on the rise in Venezuela

Source: AFP