The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to reverse the extraordinary gains made in the fight against three critical public health epidemics – HIV, TB and malaria. In 2020 we will likely see increases in deaths and new infections across all three diseases for the first time in many years as health and community systems are overwhelmed, treatment and prevention programs are disrupted, and resources are diverted. In many of the countries most heavily affected by HIV, TB and malaria, the knock-on impact of COVID-19 on these three diseases in terms of incremental deaths may outweigh the direct impact of the virus.
The numbers are stark. A recent Global Fund report found that COVID-19 could cause deaths from HIV, TB and malaria to nearly double in 12 months unless immediate steps are made to mitigate the effect of the pandemic on the three diseases. This would mean that the annual death toll for the three diseases could revert to levels close to the peak of the epidemics, threatening decades of progress.
The report included results of a survey of HIV, TB and malaria programs in 106 countries which found that approximately three-quarters of such programs are experiencing disruption due to the pandemic. The survey found that 20% of HIV and TB laboratory services are experiencing high or very high disruption due to COVID-19, partially because “many of the advanced diagnostics instruments put in place to perform viral load testing for HIV-positive people on antiretroviral treatment or to diagnose TB now being used for testing for COVID-19.” As for malaria, the pandemic is impeding distribution of mosquito nets and spraying programs, and causing people with fevers to not receive treatment due to lack of availability of health workers and shortages of protective equipment for safely visiting healthcare facilities.
The report also includes a discussion of how to adapt existing health programs to fight COVID-19 while protecting health workers, such as by enabling additional virtual health monitoring and delivering supplies door-to-door rather than at a centralized location. The report suggests that “US$28.5 billion is required for the next 12 months to adapt HIV, TB and malaria programs to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, to train and protect health workers, to reinforce systems for health so they don’t collapse, and to respond to COVID-19 itself, particularly through testing, tracing and isolation and by providing treatments as they become available.”
“The stakes are extraordinarily high,” said Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund during the launch of the report. “The knock-on effects of COVID-19 on the fight against HIV, TB and malaria and other infectious diseases could be catastrophic. Mitigating that impact will require swift action, extraordinary levels of leadership and collaboration, and significant extra resources. Above all, we must leave no one behind.”
These issues and more will be discussed during GBCHealth’s forthcoming webinar, Reimagining Commitment to Fighting HIV, TB and Malaria During COVID-19: Focus on the Private Sector, which will focus on the private sector’s role in ensuring that progress is maintained on the three diseases in the midst of COVID-19.
The event, slated for mid-July, will be hosted in collaboration with the Global Fund Private Sector Constituency (PSC) and the Corporate Alliance on Malaria in Africa (CAMA). Cross-sector speakers/panelists will address: the risks and impacts of COVID-19 on malaria, HIV and TB interventions, and potential mitigation strategies to protect hard-won gains; examples of best practices on how businesses (in collaboration with governments and others) are responding to these diseases and COVID-19 in their workplace, communities and beyond, including risks and opportunities; and ways the private sector can harness their core business strategies to help to mitigate increases in malaria, HIV, and TB cases.
This is a vital conversation, particularly as the pandemic is increasingly affecting low-and middle-income countries, which already have some of the highest disease burden of HIV, TB and malaria.
For more resources from GBCHealth on related subjects, check out our COVID-19 Business Resources page, Sustaining Malaria Intervention Amid COVID-19 and Crucial Collaborations for COVID-19: How the private sector is coming together to support the COVID-19 response in Africa.