Governments’ response to the coronavirus pandemic is driving a resurgence of diseases that may be deadlier than COVID-19, according to health experts.
Diagnosed cases of tuberculosis, HIV, and malaria have plummeted across dozens of countries. Clinics, equipment, and medicine used to diagnose and treat patients for these diseases have been converted en masse to fight the coronavirus pandemic, leaving health officials grappling with what they fear may be a massive resurgence in disease, according to The New York Times.
Government shutdowns have also disrupted supply lines, making it difficult, especially for impoverished countries, to get access to medicine to treat malaria and HIV. Consequently, patients are dangerously stretching the limited amount of medicine they have left, or have stopped taking medication altogether, leaving themselves and others at risk.
India records over a quarter of the world’s tuberculosis cases. Diagnoses of the disease have dropped 75% since the start of the pandemic, threatening even greater spread of the disease as people are left untreated. Similar trends are being replicated in other countries such as China and Brazil.
“The more you leave undiagnosed and untreated, the more you will have next year and the year after,” Dr. Lucica Ditiu told NYT. Ditiu leads a coalition of 1,700 groups dedicated to fighting the disease worldwide called the Stop TB Partnership. According to the World Health Organization, 121 countries have reported a significant drop in patients coming in for treatment of tuberculosis.
“This is really difficult to digest,” Ditiu said. “It took a lot of work to arrive where we are. We were not at the peak of the mountain, but we were away from the base. But then an avalanche came and pushed us back to the bottom.”
Dr. Giorgio Franyuti, who heads the advocacy group Medical Impact, has seen a similar trend in Mexico. Sick people with tuberculosis are coming into hospitals with flu-like symptoms, being diagnosed with COVID-19, and being sent home only to return months later with serious health problems related to their misdiagnosis.
“Nobody is testing for TB at any facility,” Franyuti said. “The mind of clinicians in Mexico, as well as decision makers, is stuck with Covid-19.”
“TB is the biggest monster of them all. If we’re talking about deaths and pandemics, 10 million cases a year,” Franyuti continued. The current global death toll from the coronavirus is nearing 700,000, though that number may vary widely do to misreporting in countries such as Iran and China, both of which the U.S. State Department has said inaccurately report their data.
The resurgence in deadly diseases follows reports that vaccinations for deadly diseases are plummeting in the United States and around the world as parents elect not to get their children vaccinated for diseases such as diphtheria, cholera, and measles. Parents are afraid that a trip to a hospital or clinic to get necessary vaccinations would leave them exposed to the coronavirus. Now, diseases long thought to be handled are reappearing at alarming rates.
“The last thing we want as the collateral damage of Covid-19 are outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, which we will almost certainly see if there continues to be a drop in vaccine uptake,” Dr. Sean T. O’Leary, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on infectious diseases, said in April.