Other diseases could surge amid pandemic | Daily News


Other diseases could surge amid pandemic

Cases of malaria, HIV/AIDS and other diseases could surge worldwide in coming months as global health systems rally to battle the coronavirus pandemic, global health experts tell CNN.

More than half a dozen experts and humanitarian aid officials, some of whom served in the US government, expressed concern that the virus that has already claimed more than 268,000 lives could have devastating ripple effects on broader global health and security.

These experts worry about backslides against diseases like tuberculosis and measles and warned of the potential for widespread famine, as humanitarian organizations seek to balance their response to the outbreak with their efforts to combat ongoing challenges.

“If you don’t get Covid-19 but die of malaria, obviously you’re no better off. All that work cannot just stop because the attention shifted elsewhere, it must continue,” said Bill O’Keefe, the executive vice president for Mission, Mobilization and Advocacy at Catholic Relief Services.

The battle will play out on many fronts and require a response on them all, said Gayle Smith, the President and CEO of the ONE Campaign, an advocacy group fighting extreme poverty and preventable disease.

“The pointy end of this crisis is the pandemic, but the ripple effects on broader public health, on food security, on local economies, on macroeconomies is such that we’ve got to have a multifaceted response to it,” Smith said. “Otherwise, you solve something over here and then you catch your breath and you look over and you’ve got another crisis on your hands on the other side.”

O’Keefe said his organization had been “really ridiculously busy” and was able to adapt work like malaria bed net distribution for the pandemic. However, others who spoke to CNN said there was already evidence that health treatments are being affected by closures, lockdowns, supply chain disruptions and even fear of going to medical establishments.

In India, health workers have seen an almost 80% drop in daily tuberculosis notifications, and “it’s not because it’s not spreading, it’s because we don’t know about it because people won’t, are not using services,” said Amanda Glassman, executive vice president and senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, which works to reduce poverty in developing countries.

Smith said there was “anecdotal evidence already emerging” of clinic closures, leaving people being unable to access services. “Some of the field work that is done because of lockdowns in various places has been interrupted,” she said. Glassman told CNN that “we have to find a way to continue to sustain the other really essential health services or we’re going to be stuck with a worse health situation than we began with.”

Experts warn disruptions in immunization campaigns could have devastating consequences. Smith, a former US Agency for International Development (USAID) administrator, noted that there were resurgences of measles and malaria during the Ebola epidemic.

“Our community’s concerned about the impacts in countries that are battling measles, cholera, polio, outbreaks like that at the same time that they have to contend with the spread of Covid-19,” said Noam Unger, the vice president for development policy, advocacy and learning at InterAction, an alliance of international NGOs and partners.

In late March, the World Health Organization recommended that governments “temporarily pause preventive immunization campaigns where there is no active outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease.”

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said last week there had been a 70% to 80% drop in vaccine shipments from late March because of logistical constraints related to the pandemic.


UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado said dozens of countries were at risk of running out of supplies, including at least five countries that experienced measles outbreaks in 2019.

“Disruptions in routine immunization campaigns, particularly in countries with weak health systems, could lead to disastrous outbreaks in 2020 and well beyond,” she said.

The Measles and Rubella Initiative -- which is comprised of the American Red Cross, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the WHO, the UN Foundation, and UNICEF -- estimates that 117 million children are at risk of missing their measles vaccine due to the pandemic.


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