COVID-19 could derail decades of progress against TB, HIV and malaria

The COVID-19 pandemic is complicating global efforts to diagnose and treat such infectious diseases as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV, which could undermine years of progress, health experts told The New York Times.

The Times spoke with more than 24 public health officials, patients and physicians worldwide, who said COVID-19 lockdowns have prevented many people in Africa, Asia and Latin America from traveling to get diagnosed with these infectious diseases or receive necessary treatments. Travel restrictions have also limited shipments of drugs to hard-hit regions. 

Globally, the pandemic has disrupted services for about 80 percent of HIV, malaria and tuberculosis programs, according to a survey from The Global Fund. India, which comprises 27 percent of global tuberculosis cases, has reported a nearly 75 percent drop in new diagnoses since the pandemic started.

A three-month lockdown and 10-month gradual return to normal could cause an additional 6.3 million tuberculosis cases globally and 1.4 million deaths this year, according to one estimate cited by the Times.

If current trends continue, some health experts warn that the world could lose years or even decades of progress fighting tuberculosis, malaria and HIV.

"COVID-19 risks derailing all our efforts and taking us back to where we were 20 years ago," Pedro L. Alonso, MD, PhD, director of the World Health Organization's global malaria program, told the Times.

These obstacles are spurring some changes to infectious disease treatment and management. For example, more providers are using video and phone calls to connect with patients, instead of having them travel long distances to clinics. Some governments are also considering buying HIV treatments in bulk to give patients several months' worth of the medication, a move that aid groups have long recommended.

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