Study Shows 6.3 Million People Could Develop Tuberculosis Because of Coronavirus Lockdown

A recent study warned that up to 6.3 million people could develop tuberculosis over the next five years because of the long-term implications of new coronavirus lockdowns.

The 6.3 million worldwide cases account for the worst-case scenario where lockdowns last for three months, followed by 10 months of recovery until normal tuberculosis services resume. In the best-case scenario–a two-month lockdown and a two-month recovery–there will be about 1.8 million new cases by 2025.

Stop TB Partnership developed the report in collaboration with Imperial College, Avenir Health, Johns Hopkins University and USAID. Modeling was focused on India, Kenya and Ukraine and experts used findings from those countries to inform the global model.

The India model informed projections for countries with a high tuberculosis burden, Kenya's was used for countries where HIV is a driver of the tuberculosis pandemic and Ukraine's informed countries with a higher proportion of drug-resistant tuberculosis. Countries that didn't fit into those three groups were assigned the average impact based on the three-country model.

Along with an increase in cases, the report found in the worst-case scenario 1.37 million people could die and in the best-case scenario, there could be 342,500 deaths.

"These results illustrate that it can take years for TB burden to return to pre-lockdown levels," the report said. "The resulting excess TB cases and deaths can represent substantial setbacks in ending TB control in each country."

coronavirus lockdown tuberculosis increase cases
Indian migrant workers covering their faces with protective masks wait to board buses to return to their native villages as a nationwide lockdown continues in an attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) on March 28 in Ghaziabad, on the outskirts New Delhi, India. A recent study found that lockdowns to curb the spread of coronavirus could lead to 6.3 million cases of a new coronavirus. Yawar Nazir/Getty

The numbers researchers found imply the new coronavirus pandemic could cause a setback of five to eight years in the fight against tuberculosis.

More than 3.6 million people worldwide have been confirmed to have the new coronavirus and since January, when the first death was reported, 258,051 people have died, according to a tracker maintained by Johns Hopkins University. Of those cases, 535 were identified in Kenya, 13,184 in Ukraine and 49,436 were in India.

India's been on lockdown since March 25 in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. The government's eased restrictions in some areas where there have been low reports of infections, but strict curfews and other measures remain in place for places where infections are higher.

The nationwide lockdown was extended on Friday and is now set to end on May 17, continuing restrictions on movements, in-person education and social gatherings.

Countries around the world have implemented a range of lockdown measures and during those periods of time, Stop TB Partnership said there are missed opportunities for tuberculosis diagnosis and treatments. With normal services unable to reduce an expanded pool of undetected and unreported cases to pre-lockdown levels, people can continue to contribute to the transmission for "years to come."

Therefore, once lockdowns lift, countries should add supplementary measures to the restoration of normal tuberculosis services to reduce the "prevalent pool" of cases. This could include community engagement and ramped-up casefinding and contact tracing to "compensate for missed diagnoses during the lockdown period."