As the world is battling the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed thousands of lives so far, the public health experts are increasingly becoming worried about another infectious disease that is spreading quietly– tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis (TB) is the world’s most deadly infectious disease and the experts say that there has been a resurgence in the number of cases as the globe puts more focus on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. With the reallocation of medical resources to fight the pandemic, health experts say that TB is silently spreading and killing more people.

TB is a bacterial infection that usually attacks the lungs. People with TB suffer from persistent cough and congestion, which continues for weeks and leads up to the diagnosis.

According to the statistics provided by the World Health Organization, more than 10 million people fell ill with TB in 2018 and nearly 1.5 million people died because of it in a year. The public health experts think that since all of the attention has been diverted to the management of coronavirus pandemic, the situation concerning TB cases will be much worse this year.

“We don’t know what the number will be but the prediction is it will be much higher than [2018, the most recent available data] because of the incredible destruction by the Covid-19 pandemic, the lockdowns and restrictions many countries had to impose,” said Madhukar Pai, who is the director of the McGill International TB Centre at McGill University in Canada.

Most of the hospitals and clinics in a majority of the countries have been overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients this year. Therefore, Pai says that not much focus has been on TB patients who need treatment and further management.

Some reduction in the number of new cases of TB has been observed during the lockdown, especially in India, that accounted for almost a quarter of the total cases reported in 2018. However, public health experts say that the lockdown has reduced access to medicines that TB patients need to take.

“The longer the lockdown continues, the greater difficulty for patients to get their drugs. So the treatment completion is likely to go down dramatically in the next weeks,” Pai said.

It is estimated that there could be an additional 1.4 million deaths related to tuberculosis in 2020 due to the diversion of attention to handling the COVID-19 outbreak.

Coronavirus COVID-19 temporary hospital - Central Park, New York
A temporary hospital is built in Central Park on the East Meadow lawn on March 30, 2020 in New York City. The facility is a partnership between Mt. Sinai Hospital and Christian humanitarian aid organization Samaritan's Purse, equipped with 68 beds to treat COVID-19 patients. John Lamparski/Getty Images

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