Number of tubeculosis diagnoses decreased during the coronavirus pandemic – is still one of the most common infectious diseases in the world

Publication date 24 Mar 2021


The coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on the prevalence of many respiratory infectious diseases. The number of tuberculosis diagnoses has decreased considerably also in Finland. 174 new cases of tuberculosis were diagnosed in 2020, a 23 % decrease from the previous year. 

In Finland, a typical tuberculosis patient is an older person born in Finland who has been infected in their youth, or a young immigrant from an area where tuberculosis is a common disease.

‘Particularly few cases were diagnosed during the state of emergency in the spring when many health care providers were closed down.  The decrease in contacts and immigration may also have affected the number of cases. It is very important that tuberculosis diagnostics also work during emergency conditions,’ says Hanna Soini, Senior Specialist at THL.

Millions of people fall ill every year 

Despite the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, tuberculosis remains one of the most common infectious diseases in the world. According to an estimate by the World Health Organisation (WHO), a total of 10 million people were infected with tuberculosis in 2019 and 1.4 million died from it. The highest number of cases were diagnosed in Asia and Africa. 

Tuberculosis is transmitted via airborne transmission, but an infection usually requires long or repeated exposure. The disease can also remain latent and only become active decades after the infection. 

The most common form of tuberculosis is pulmonary tuberculosis, but the disease may also be located elsewhere in the body. Typical symptoms of tuberculosis include prolonged cough, sputum, fever and weight loss. 

Peer support and supervised care being developed to support patients 

Suffering from tuberculosis and the treatment for the illness change a person’s life in many ways, by raising concerns, questions and the need for peer support. In particular, patients are often worried about the stigma associated with tuberculosis and the isolation at the start of the treatment, and feeling anxious about infecting their loved-ones. 

Filha, an expert organisation for tuberculosis and pulmonary diseases, has launched pilot activities to support patients with tuberculosis, in which a volunteer peer support person can be reached by the patient two days a week. They are under the obligation of confidentiality, so the help is fully confidential. 

To ensure tuberculosis patients make a recovery, supervised pharmacotherapy is recommended, as it can be used to support the patient during long-term treatment and to ensure the patient’s recovery. Video-monitored treatment increases the patient's privacy and freedom of movement and reduces the time and costs spent on monitoring the pharmacotherapy. 

‘Filha supports the nation-wide introduction of video-monitored care. The treatment has already been piloted in two hospital district areas, and its development will continue on the basis of the information gained from the pilots. Regional training on the treatment will be offered to health care personnel during this year,’ says Tuula Vasankari, Secretary General of Filha. 

The World Tuberculosis Day is on 24 March.

Additional information

What is tuberculosis (in Finnish)? 
Prevalence of tuberculosis in Finland (in Finnish) 
Tuberculosis (in Finnish) 
National training on tuberculosis 19 May 2021 (in Finnish) 

Tuula Vasankari
Secretary General
tel. +358 50 545 0589
[email protected] 

Hanna Soini
Senior Expert
Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare
tel. +358 29 524 6608
[email protected]

Infektiotaudit ja rokotukset Main site the department of infectious diseases - thlfi-en tuberculosis - thlfi-en