Focus On Coronavirus Could Dramatically Increase Cases Of Other Diseases

( While most of the world’s health efforts are focused on the coronavirus right now, some experts are worried that other diseases such as HIV and TB could get out of control.

The International AIDS Society said it will raise concerns at the 23rd International AIDS conference this week about how the focus on the coronavirus pandemic may threaten decades of progress to contain these other diseases.

The president of the International AIDS Society, Dr. Anton Pozniak, said last week:

“The social distancing efforts and lockdowns to control the spread of it [coronavirus] have disrupted HIV prevention and treatment programs and put vital HIV research on hold.”

In June, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria conducted a survey that found that in 85% of the countries where it works (106 in total), there were disruptions in their HIV services. For tuberculosis, there was a 78% disruption, and there was a 73% disruption for malaria services. Almost 20% of the 106 countries reported disruptions of a severe degree for all three diseases.

Disruptions such as these could lead to more than 1 million extra deaths due to these diseases, according to models that were developed by Stop TB partnership, the World Health Organization and the Imperial College London.

A disruption to AIDS services in sub-Saharan Africa could eventually lead to 500,000 extra deaths from illnesses related to AIDS by 2021, according to a recent model commissioned by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS and the WHO. Those deaths are in addition to the 470,000 that would have occurred anyway, based on numbers from 2018.

If this happens, progress that has been made in HIV control would be set back by more than 12 years, officials said.

In May, Winnie Byanyima, the executive director of UNAIDS, said in a statement:

“There is a risk that the hard-earned gains of the AIDS response will be sacrificed to the fight against COVID-19. But the right to health means that no one disease should be fought at the expense of the other.”

And as Pozniak explained:

“When your outreach services are transferred to COVID and COVID-testing, nobody is testing for HIV.”

The partnership Stop TB released mathematical models last month that showed similar types of outcomes. A global lockdown of two months followed by a recovery that last two months could end up resulting in more than 1.8 million extra TB cases across the world, with more than 340,000 additional deaths by 2025.

And Imperial College London also estimated that cases of malaria would likely surge. Deaths from the disease could double just this year when compared to last year, with more than 760,000 deaths from the disease. This is because people will likely have less access to bed nets that would protect them from mosquito bites, in addition to the limited treatment or testing access.

Pozniak said the full extent of the damage due to these diseases will only be figured out “once we get back to widespread testing.”