Outbreak Outbreaks Fight Against HIV, TB and Malaria

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The Covid-19 pandemic has severely hampered the fight against other global scourges such as HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, according to a depressing new report released Tuesday.

Before the pandemic, the world was taking steps against these diseases. Overall, deaths from these diseases have decreased by about half since 2004.

“The emergence of a fourth pandemic in Covid puts these hard achievements in great danger,” said Mitchell Warren, executive director of AVAC, a nonprofit that supports HIV treatment worldwide.

The pandemic has flooded hospitals and disrupted supply chains for tests and treatments. In many poor countries, the coronavirus has taken limited public health resources away from the treatment and prevention of these diseases.

Fewer people asked for a diagnosis or medication because they were afraid of being infected with the coronavirus in clinics. And some patients were denied care because cough or fever symptoms were similar to Covid-19 symptoms.

“We will continue to play the mole of emergency response and global health,” said Mr Warren, unless comprehensive efforts continue to repel the disease.

The report was compiled by the Global Fund, an advocacy group that funds campaigns against HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis.

Before the emergence of the coronavirus, tuberculosis was the largest infectious disease killer worldwide, taking more than a million lives each year. The epidemic has exacerbated the damage.

According to the new report, nearly a million fewer people were tested and treated for TB in 2020 compared to 2019 – a decrease of about 18 percent.

The number of people treated for drug-resistant tuberculosis decreased by 19 percent, and the number of people treated for drug-resistant tuberculosis decreased by 37 percent. About 500,000 people were diagnosed with drug-resistant tuberculosis in 2019.

“We’re really impressed with TB,” said Peter Sands, executive director of the Global Fund. “I’m afraid that inevitably means hundreds of thousands of extra deaths.”

Mr Sands said India, which has the highest tuberculosis burden in the world, restarted its rate of pre-Covid tuberculosis diagnosis in late 2020, but this spring’s outbreak may have reversed that progress.

A decline in TB diagnoses can have far-reaching consequences for a community. One person with untreated TB can transmit the bacteria to 15 people each year.

Compared to 2019, the number of people seeking HIV testing decreased by 22 percent and those opting for HIV prevention services decreased by 12 percent. Medical male circumcision, thought to slow the spread of the virus, has decreased by 27 percent.

“Since there is no cure for HIV, every person infected is a long-term effect,” said Mr Sands.

According to the report, malaria diagnoses have dropped by a small amount. Most countries have been able to implement measures that limit the impact on diagnosis and treatment.

As many as 115 million people have been driven into extreme poverty by Covid-19, further limiting their access to treatment and support. School closures and curfews in some countries have made it difficult for adolescent girls and young women to access healthcare.

Amidst the bleak news, there were several beacons of hope: The crisis has forced health institutions and ministries in many poor countries to adopt innovations that can overcome the pandemic. These include: supplying patients with TB and HIV medications or condoms, lubricants and needles for months; Using digital tools to monitor TB treatment; and simultaneous testing for HIV, TB and Covid-19.

Community health workers testing people for Covid in Nigeria, for example, also searched for HIV and TB cases. As a result, the country is one of the few countries to see an increase in HIV diagnoses compared to 2019.

In Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, community health workers on motorcycles delivered insecticide-treated mosquito nets door-to-door rather than dispersing them from trucks in village squares, helping them reach more households than before and reducing the number of malaria infections.

Deploying networks to individual households is “a little more expensive”, but “it was definitely an investment worth making,” said Mr Sands.

Mr Sands said the Global Fund has spent about $1 billion more than its normal budget to minimize the impact of the pandemic. In March 2020, the organization released $500 million to help countries cope; As of August 2021, it has raised $3.3 billion for use in 107 countries.

Funds were used to support health systems, provide tests, treatments and oxygen, and provide personal protective equipment to healthcare workers.

Mr Sands said donors are committed to providing $6 billion for HIV and another $2 billion for TB over the next three years.

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