Ever since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries have been scrambling to mitigate its social and economic effects, as well as find treatments and vaccines to save lives and protect their population. Even though some countries are reducing lockdown measures and re-starting their economies, the number of cases and victims continue to increase in several parts of the world, in particular in malaria-endemic countries.
The sense of urgency to prevent and treat other communicable fatal diseases has changed, as time and financial resources are diverted to find vaccines and treatments to coronavirus. According to The Global Fund, three-quarters of 106 countries reported disruptions on current programmes to prevent and treat HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.
In the case of malaria alone, the organisation expects the COVID-19 pandemic to eliminate approximately 20 years of progress, as highlighted in its latest report “Mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on countries affected by HIV, tuberculosis and malaria” (June 2020).
The conclusion is consistent to what we saw in this WHO study published a couple of months ago and an Imperial College London study just published in The Lancet.
The Global Fund expects 382,000 additional malaria deaths in 2020 compared to 2018.
For poor and vulnerable communities, the situation is particularly threatening. The economic impact is more likely to hit them the most. They are the most dependent on public health systems, which are at greater risk of collapse now. The Global Fund estimates that approximately US$28.5 billion are required for the next 12 months to adapt HIV, tuberculosis and malaria programmes to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, train and protect health workers, strengthen health care systems and respond to the pandemic itself. This amount, however, does not even consider the costs of deploying a possible COVID-19 vaccine, says the report.
The impact of the current pandemic is making it clear that we are not prepared for health crises. We need more robust health care systems to successfully address well-known and new communicable diseases. Innovation and investments in R&D are also proven to be essential. They can potentially enhance disease diagnosis, prevention and treatment methods; ultimately saving lives and reducing the burden on health care systems. As notably highlighted in the report, if we want to save lives, “new medical tools need to be delivered through effective clinical programs underpinned by resilient and sustainable systems for health that reach those most at risk”.
Countries might be easing lockdowns, but we still have a difficult battle ahead of us. We need to contain the coronavirus and invest in solutions to protect the progress made so far to control other diseases.
Regulatory Science Officer