GLOBAL HEALTH II – Covid-19 and other infectious diseases

Even as health workers scramble to contain raging COVID-19 epidemics across the globe, a host of services for other infectious diseases such as cholera, Ebola, measles, and polio are simultaneously being disrupted. While Covid-19 has infected millions and claimed more than 250,000 lives, experts are warning that the impact of other diseases neglected due to the pandemic may be just as significant in the months and years to come.

Lockdowns and travel restrictions have resulted in the suspension of immunisation programmes, threatened vaccine stockpiles, and impeded the ability of health personnel to respond to other emergencies.

Everyone from global health policymakers in Geneva, to national health ministries, to field level health workers is being forced into difficult trade-offs…. As they redraw priorities, decision-makers must also vie for limited sources of funding, all at a time when the world is facing difficult economic conditions without parallel.

Inevitably, some of the most vulnerable people will fall off the map and suffer for want of vaccines and life-saving drugs for existing conditions. The consequences will be worst felt where life is hardest…

Even before considering additional deaths linked to Covid-19, HIV, tuberculosis, viral hepatitis, malaria, neglected tropical diseases, and sexually-transmitted infections were expected to kill an estimated four million people in 2020.

Dr Seth Berkeley, head of the global vaccine alliance GAVI, warned recently – citing a London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine study – that deaths from other infectious diseases could outweigh Covid-19 fatalities by a factor of 100 to one in Africa.

The article goes on to give details about resurgent measles outbreaks, lingering Ebola virus, polio successes being at risk, concerns about cholera, yellow fever in parts of East Africa, and the extended reach of malaria and dengue, because the mosquitoes that transmit them are moving from tropical climates to more temperate ones.

Marking annual World Immunisation Week (24-30 April), the WHO warned that shutting down immunisation services could risk triggering a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases. “These diseases will come roaring back if we do not vaccinate,” warned WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The New Humanitarian, by Priti Patnaik, 6 May 2020; VISUAL