While the world is focused on containing the new coronavirus, we could lose our fight against other infectious diseases, some that were on their way to being eradicated
The world could see a re-emergence of another infectious disease as it tries to grapple with containing the new coronavirus.
Some countries are facing shortages or obstacles in obtaining necessary vaccines for diseases like polio or measles, the Associated Press reported.
People dealing with chronic infections may not have access to necessary medications they need to stay alive.
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Efforts to eliminate or control the spread of infectious diseases like tuberculosis, measles, malaria, polio, HIV/AIDS, among others, may be thwarted as the world focuses on the coronavirus pandemic.
The issue is global, from African countries struggling to get necessary vaccines to countries like South Korea that have robust healthcare systems, according to the Associated Press.
Resources could run out as they are being used to battle the coronavirus
John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the AP that hospitals are so overwhelmed with coronavirus that they’re redirecting medical staff, running short on supplies, and suspending health services.
Tolbert Nyenswah, a research associate at Johns Hopkins University, told Business Insider that hospitals on the continent lack personal protective equipment for medical staff. If a worker gets sick, the facility is likely to close, leaving an entire community of people who rely on it for care and medications at risk.
Nkengasong added the biggest concern is that resources used for other diseases would be repurposed for coronavirus or run out.
In Liberia, over 10,000 people died from other preventable diseases during the Ebola crisis
Business Insider previously reported that in China, people with other illnesses were struggling to get care as the country imposed a serious lockdown and sent healthcare workers from across the country to Wuhan to fight the outbreak.
“There are other things that are catastrophic for the population,” Nyenswah told Business Insider.
Nyenswah, who previously served in Liberia’s health ministry, where he battled the country’s 2014-2016 Ebola crisis, spoke on how over 10,000 people died from three other preventable diseases during that outbreak because they were unable to get care.
He predicts the current coronavirus pandemic will have a much more significant death toll from other diseases.
“All the cases of death will be triple or quadruple or even ten times the COVID deaths,” Nyenswah said.
He explained that millions of kids could miss out on vital vaccines that they get in childhood due to delays, leaving them vulnerable to infections from things like yellow fever, measles, and polio, especially in Africa, Asia, and southeast Asia. Others could die from diseases like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis if their healthcare facilities where they access those necessary medications and treatments close.
“This will have longtime consequences for decades to come,” Nyenswah said,
Lockdowns can keep people from life-saving medications
Rashid Ansumana, a Sierra Leone health expert who studied the Ebola outbreak, told the AP that the impact of the coronavirus’s “will definitely be higher.”
The Wall Street Journal also reported that people were already feeling the impact of the pandemic. Wan Ruyi, a college student with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, told WSJ she was unable to access necessary care because of the lockdown at the time, many people were unable to get refills on life-saving medications.
Emily Ricotta, a research fellow at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, previously told Business Insider that it’s not uncommon to see these sorts of shortages in care for people dealing with other illnesses in times of outbreaks. When the focus is on containing an outbreak, there are fewer resources available to deal with other conditions.
“When an outbreak starts, the first response is containment,” Ricotta said.
Marc Biot, director of operations for Doctors Without Borders, told the AP health providers are working to give people who have hepatitis C, HIV and Tuberculosis months worth of medicine.
“Countries that are on track to eradicate diseases like polio and measles, they may be compromised”
However, on a global level, the AP reports that struggles to get necessary vaccines where they’re needed most could mean entire segments of populations could miss out on vital protection from viruses that were on their way to being eradicated.
The vaccine alliance GAVI said 13.5 million people are at risk of contracting measles, polio, and human papillomavirus. The organization also said there were 21 countries mainly in African facing shortages of vaccines because of borders closing and limited airplanes operating. Additionally, 14 “vaccination campaigns for diseases like polio and measles have been postponed.”
“Countries that are on track to eradicate diseases like polio and measles, they may be compromised,” Nyenswah said.
Biot told the AP that lockdowns have also made it hard to transport supplies such as necessary medication, protective gear, and oxygen.
The Congo is already dealing with new Ebola and measles outbreaks that have caused more than 6,000 deaths, according to the AP.
According to the New York Times, 100 million kids could be at risk for measles due to halted vaccine programs. There are already dealies to measles vaccines in 24 countries and concern that over 117 million children in 37 countries could miss out on the necessary immunization, The Measles & Rubella Initiative.
Door-to-door vaccinations from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recommended were suspended, Jay Wenger, who heads polio eradication efforts told the AP.
“It is a necessary move to reduce the risk of increasing transmission of COVID-19,” Wenger told the AP.
India has seen a delay in diagnosing tuberculosis patients amid lockdowns that prevent people from accessing healthcare clinics. The country has around one-third of the global tuberculosis cases.
Health inspectors in Sri Lanka that typically work to destroy mosquito breeding sites in homes have been working on tracking coronavirus cases. The country saw an increase in the mosquito-born disease like dengue fever last year, according to the AP.
Despite the need to address and limit the spread of the coronavirus, Nkengasong told the AP there still needs to be an immediate focus on addressing all the other illnesses that could run rampant and cause more deaths.
As for right now, Nyenswah recommends an approach that focuses on providing personal protective equipment to healthcare workers across the globe, especially in areas where people rely on facilities remaining open for medications, maintaining routine vaccinations alongside the efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“The time to advocate for those programs is not when COVID is over. The time is now,” Nkengasong told the AP.
Nyenswah said there needs to be one health approach to dealing with infectious and emergent diseases. The One Health approach is a CDC initiative that focuses on a collaborative approach between health, political and environmental organizations on the local, regional, and international levels “with the goal of achieving optimal health outcomes recognizing the interconnection between people, animals, plants, and their shared environment.”
Nyenswah explained that humans, animals, and the environment are closely linked, and disease is easier to spread from animals to humans, primarily due to environmental factors like humans pushing further into forested areas and interacting more closely with animals. To address the infectious diseases that can spread as a result, including the current coronavirus pandemic, experts in different fields and at all levels need to understand when and where a virus might emerge.
He said the focus should on “how do we look at the outbreaks and stop them at their source?”
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