WHO South-East Asia Journal of Public Health
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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 9  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 95-99

Mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on progress towards ending tuberculosis in the WHO South-East Asia Region

Department of Communicable Diseases, World Health Organization Regional Office for South-East Asia, New Delhi, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr Vineet Bhatia
Department of Communicable Diseases, World Health Organization Regional Office for South-East Asia, New Delhi
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DOI: 10.4103/2224-3151.294300

PMID: 32978339

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Almost half of the deaths worldwide caused by tuberculosis in 2018 occurred in the World Health Organization (WHO) South-East Asia Region, home to around a quarter of the global population. Maintaining robust progress in this region is therefore essential if the global goal of ending the tuberculosis epidemic is to be realized. Substantial gains have been made in the region, but the threat to health worldwide posed by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic includes not only the direct effects of the pandemic but also the potential eclipsing of the global tuberculosis emergency. The results of modelling studies present stark warnings of a reversal of years of progress and a significant resurgence in deaths from tuberculosis. The COVID-19 pandemic has had variable impacts in the WHO South-East Asia Region to date, but in the countries most affected there has been targeted diversion and repurposing of tuberculosis services, health-care workers and diagnostic equipment. The combined effects of COVID-19, containment measures and fragmentation of tuberculosis services have resulted in delays in diagnosis or non-diagnosis and disruption in treatment resulting in increased morbidity, mortality, transmission and drug resistance. Countries of the region have made attempts to ensure continuity of services and civil society and nongovernmental organizations have instituted a range of innovative mechanisms to support national programmes. However, a comprehensive approach – including scaling up successful initiatives, empowering community leadership, harnessing digital tools, and implementing easily accessible cash transfers and nutrition support – will be critical to success. As COVID-19 recedes, countries will need “catch-up plans” to deploy supplementary measures to address the increased tuberculosis burden. Urgent, targeted and agile responses have the potential to mitigate and reverse the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tuberculosis in South-East Asia.

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