WHO Global Tuberculosis Report 2021

On October 14, the World Health Organization (WHO) published its Global Tuberculosis Report 2021, which features data on disease trends and the response to the epidemic from 197 countries. This report shows that progress towards tuberculosis (TB) milestones and targets have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, TB deaths increased for the first time in over a decade – going up to as high as 1.5 million.

The WHO has published a global tuberculosis (TB) report every year since 1997. The purpose of the report is to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date assessment of the status of the TB epidemic and progress in the response at global, regional and national levels, in the context of global commitments, strategies and targets. The 2021 edition of the report was released on October 14, based on data from 197 countries and territories with >99% of the world’s population and TB cases.

The report paints a worrying picture of the development of the global TB burden. The ongoing pandemic has reversed years of progress in providing essential TB services and, for the first time in over a decade, TB-related deaths increased last year, reaching 1.5 million. 

A new and more web-centric format

This year’s report is in a new web-centric format, with the main findings and messages presented in a 30-page PDF document, which is accompanied by expanded, more comprehensive content on the WHO website.

This online content is organized under seven major topics:

The report is complemented by an updated mobile app, TB Report, available in English, French, Russian and Spanish for both Android and iOS devices.

COVID-19 reversing years of TB progress

The coronavirus pandemic has caused enormous impacts on the provision of, and access to, essential TB services, the number of people diagnosed with TB and TB disease burden (incidence and mortality).

The most obvious impact is a large global drop in the number of people newly diagnosed with TB and reported cases. This fell from 7.1 million in 2019 to 5.8 million in 2020, an 18% decline back to the level of 2012. The reported 7.1 million new cases are also far short of the approximately 10 million people who are estimated to have developed TB in 2020.
Globally, disruptions to the provision of and access to TB diagnostic and treatment services due to the COVID-19 pandemic are estimated to have caused an increase of about 100 000 in the global number of TB deaths between 2019 and 2020.

2020 milestones for reducing TB disease burden: Mostly not achieved

The End TB Strategy milestones for reductions in TB disease burden by 2020 were a 35% reduction in the number of TB deaths and a 20% reduction in the TB incidence rate, compared with levels in 2015. These milestones were not achieved globally or in most WHO regions and countries.

Globally, the reduction in the number of TB deaths between 2015 and 2020 was only 9.2%, about one-quarter of the way to the milestone. The cumulative reduction in the TB incidence rate from 2015 to 2020 was 11%, just over halfway to the 2020 milestone.

Worsening trends for TB deaths and incidence projected

The big global drop in TB case notifications in 2020 compared with 2019 means that the gap between the number of people who fell ill with TB and the number of people newly diagnosed and reported widened substantially in 2020, to a best estimate of 4.1 million (up from 3 million last year.)

The biggest impact on TB deaths is expected in 2021 and the biggest impact on TB incidence is forecast to be in 2022.

LINQ’s commitment to combating TB 

TB research and innovation is essential to achieve the global TB targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the WHO End TB Strategy. The SDG target is to “end the epidemic” by 2030. More specific targets for 2030 set in the End TB Strategy are a 90% reduction in TB deaths and an 80% reduction in TB incidence compared with 2015 levels, with targets for further reductions (95% and 90%, respectively) by 2035. 

LINQ is highly committed to the fight against TB. Six projects in our portfolio focus on the disease, TriageTB, ENDxTB, PredictTB, StatinTB, TB-CAPT and CoreNB. By supporting these projects in different capacities, we aim to make our small contribution to making a dent in the TB epidemic.