Latin America Sees Alarming Trend in Fight Against Tuberculosis

Editorial by ISGlobal researchers marking World Tuberculosis Day calls for action on several fronts to tackle the resurgence of the disease in Latin America

Photo: Foto: Andalu Vila San Juan

According to the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Tuberculosis Report, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries were making solid progress in the fight against tuberculosis (TB), which remains the world’s deadliest infectious disease. Between 2015 and 2019, TB incidence fell by 9% worldwide, while deaths fell by 14%. The number of people treated for TB also grew steadily, with more than 14 million receiving care in 2018 and 2019.

The report applauds the strides made by Europe, which is on track to meet the goals set out in the End TB Strategy, and by Africa, which is also making progress towards its targets. However, the Americas—where TB incidence is slowly increasing after many years of decline—are a serious cause for concern.

An “Alarming” Disease Control Trend

A recent editorial in BMJ Global Health penned by ISGlobal researchers Otavio Ranzani and Alberto García-Basteiro, among others, describes an “alarming” trend in Latin America for global TB control efforts. The authors analysed 12 Latin American countries—which account for 80% of the total estimated TB cases in the region—and used WHO data to show that the number of new cases in those countries increased by 13.8% between 2014 and 2019.

TB is a marker of social inequity and the paradigm of poverty-related diseases, since the most vulnerable populations typically endure the greatest burden. Latin America is a clear example of this. Since 2015, poverty has increased across the region, with Venezuela and Brazil sadly leading the pack. As it happens, Venezuela has seen the largest rise in TB cases, with its incidence rate nearly doubling.

This upward trend, which may be amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, will have an enormous health and social impact on the region. Therefore, the authors of the editorial argue, rapid action is needed to address the resurgence of TB in the region. “TB control in the Americas is likely to worsen in upcoming years if remedial, coordinated actions are not urgently implemented to reverse these trends,” they conclude. “Otherwise, years of thorough efforts in TB control will be lost.”

Reference: Ranzani OT, Pescarini JM, Martinez L, et al. Increasing tuberculosis burden in Latin America: an alarming trend for global control efforts. BMJ Global Health 2021;0:e005639. doi:10.1136/bmjgh-2021-005639