KABUL, Afghanistan

Tuberculosis killed nearly 10,000 people in Afghanistan last year, three times more than the COVID-19 fatalities, the top health official said on Wednesday.

Addressing a conference in the capital Kabul, Minister of Public Health Wahid Majrooh said that almost 50,000 people had tuberculosis in 2020 and 9,800 patients lost their lives to the disease.

“The World Health Organization estimates that 73,000 Afghans were infected with tuberculosis in Afghanistan last year. But our health system has been able to identify only about 50,000 due to the limitations created by the coronavirus outbreak. About 20% of these victims were children,” said Majrooh.

The health official said the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected efforts to prevent the spread of tuberculosis in Afghanistan, and many tuberculosis patients in the country could not be diagnosed and treated.

Most of the tuberculosis patients, Majrooh said, are women due to inadequate nutrition, low body immunity, and their lifestyle particularly in rural parts of the country.

Hajiani Samia, a 63-year-old tuberculosis patient in Kabul, told Anadolu Agency that she completed twice the nerve-wracking six-month course of a combination of antibiotics, but still continues to suffer from the disease.

“Perhaps, I missed the dose someday, that is why I still have the symptoms of the disease and continue to struggle with my breathing,” she said, adding the persistent use of antibiotics has severely affected her stomach.

According to health officials in Afghanistan, the pandemic left tuberculosis patients marginalized and reduced their access to health care.

The latest figures by the Health Ministry confirmed 50 new positive cases of COVID-19 and one death on Wednesday. It raised the confirmed cases to 56,226 and the deaths to 2,467.

According to Sima Samar, head of Afghanistan’s Tuberculosis Control Board, the donor community should not forget that numerous needy people are suffering from the disease, and need urgent attention, care, and support.

The WHO believes cultural barriers and stigma around tuberculosis as well as the deteriorating security situation continue to pose grim challenges in curtailing this deadly disease in Afghanistan.

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