HIV, malaria and TB deaths likely to surge amid Covid-19: Study

LONDON • Deaths from HIV, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria could surge in poor and middle-income countries as already weak health systems grapple with severe disruptions from the Covid-19 pandemic.

A predictive study published on Monday shows that over the next five years, deaths from the three diseases could rise by as much as 10 per cent, 20 per cent and 36 per cent respectively - putting the mortality impact on a scale similar to the direct impact of the coronavirus pandemic itself.

"In countries with a high malaria burden and large HIV and TB epidemics, even short-term disruptions could have devastating consequences for the millions of people who depend on programmes to control and treat these diseases," said Professor Timothy Hallett of Imperial College London who co-led the modelling study.

He said the knock-on impact of Covid-19 could undo some of the significant progress against these diseases made over the past two decades, "compounding the burden caused by the pandemic directly".

But the risks could be mitigated, Prof Hallett said, if countries strive to maintain core health services and deploy preventative measures against infections.

Published in the Lancet Global Health journal, the study - which used disease-modelling projections to map out Covid-19 pandemic scenarios - found that the greatest impact on HIV would be from interruption to supplies of the antiretroviral Aids drugs taken by many patients to keep the disease in check.

The United Nations Aids agency and the World Health Organisation warned last week of such stock shortages, with more than a third of the world's countries already saying they are at risk of running out of antiretrovirals.

With malaria, the study found the largest impact would be from disrupted distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets, which protect millions of people from becoming infected by malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2020, with the headline 'HIV, malaria and TB deaths likely to surge amid Covid-19: Study'. Print Edition | Subscribe