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Explained: How COVID-19 can help deal with the silent tuberculosis crisis

India accounts for 27 per cent of the world’s total TB patients and is among the top 8 countries with the highest number of TB cases.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba , Edited by Explained Desk | Updated: April 16, 2020 8:05:25 am
Explained: How COVID-19 can help deal with the silent tuberculosis crisis Doctors claim that people suffering from TB and COVID-19 may have poorer treatment outcomes, especially if TB treatment is interrupted. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

Coronavirus (COVID-19): With WHO underlining the importance of continuing prevention and treatment of Tuberculosis (TB) during the COVID-19 crisis, The Indian Express explains how the current situation can also help to zero in on ‘missed out’ TB patients.

What exactly has WHO said for TB patients during COVID-19?

According to a WHO Information Note — ‘Tuberculosis and COVID-19’, there is a need to maintain TB services during effective response to COVID-19. “It is important that the progress made in TB prevention and care is not reversed by the COVID19 pandemic,” said WHO, adding that TB patients who have lung damage or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may suffer from more severe illness if they are infected with COVID-19.

Why India needs to act on this statement?

India accounts for 27 per cent of the world’s total TB patients and is among the top 8 countries with the highest number of TB cases. In 2018, as many as 4.4 lakh people died of TB in India which is 29 per cent of the total 1.5 million deaths due to TB in the world. Out of total 7 million cases reported in 2018 across the world, India had 2.69 million cases, while, according to data available, it missed out on tracking down 5.40 lakh cases.

How does WHO want TB care gains protected during the outbreak?

The agency has said that there is a stronger case for concurrent testing for both conditions in these individuals even if the clinical picture is atypical.

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Are TB patients at high risk for COVID-19?

Doctors claim that people suffering from TB and COVID-19 may have poorer treatment outcomes, especially if TB treatment is interrupted. “The immunity of TB patients is very low,” said a senior doctor.

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Can the pandemic help trace 5.4 lakh ‘missed out’ TB patients?

Health experts believe so. They argue that because of the fear of the coronavirus several will step forward for testing since symptoms for TB – fever, cough and difficulty in breathing — are almost similar to coronavirus. The medical examination then will help reveal their TB bacteria infection. TB expert Dr. M B Bali said that the current situation can also help identify people with latent TB – who have the disease but no symptoms. According to WHO, there are 25 per cent patients with latent TB.

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