The number of people who were treated for tuberculosis in 2021 decreased 26 percent compared to the previous year, according to the National Center for Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control (CENAT), which said the COVID-19 pandemic was responsible for the drop.
CENAT director Huot Chan Yuda said that 21, 564 Tuberculosis cases were recorded last year, down from over 29,000 the previous year. However, he said that data might not be truly representative of how many people actually had TB, because fewer sick people may have gone to the clinic due to the pandemic.
According to statistics from CENAT’s National Tuberculosis Program, Cambodia’s TB infection rate is 274 cases per every 100,000 people. Given how infectious the disease can be, it’s possible many new cases simply went undiagnosed during the pandemic.
Kuoy Bunthoeun, director of Kandal’s provincial health department, which recorded some 100 fewer TB cases last year, also supports this theory.
“The decrease in TB patients in 2021 might be due to the fact that public hospitals were busy with COVID-19 treatment and some people infected with TB were scared of also being infected with Covid so they stayed away from the hospitals,” he told CamboJA.
Srey Sin, Kampong Thom provincial department director, also said his province had seen a decline in cases, though he thought it could be due to mask-wearing and the Covid-preventative measures introduced during the pandemic.
“Citizens understand how to prevent it (TB) because it’s an airborne disease similar to COVID-19,” he said.
Mr. Sin said that another reason numbers were down could be because health officials had gone out to find people in the community with TB and had successfully treated them, preventing them from infecting others.
Choub Sok Chamreun, executive director of health NGO Khana, agreed the pandemic was a factor in the lower numbers of recorded cases.
“Because of COVID-19, people didn’t go to hospital and health officials were busy with COVID-19 in 2021,” he said, adding that given TB and Covid have similar symptoms, people with TB might also have been scared to go to hospital in case they had to test for Covid.
Lockdowns also made it harder for some to travel to hospital to seek treatment, he noted.
Earlier this week, ahead of World Tuberculosis Day on Thursday, the World Health Organization warned that the pandemic had set back years of progress made in fighting TB because it had disrupted access to TB services.