With all the tragedy surrounding COVID-19, it’s easy to forget that this virus is not the only monster plaguing certain countries right now. The fight against the pandemic is using up the majority of medical resources across the globe and while those resources are necessary to fight COVID-19, it is becoming clear that coronavirus is making other global health crises worse.
Efforts in recent years to curb the spread of tuberculosis globally, for example, have led to a decline in TB cases and deaths, CNN reported. Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that affects the lungs and kills more than 1.5 million people a year, more than any other infectious disease. While TB is not highly prevalent in the U.S., some countries, like India, Kenya, and Ukraine, carry a high number of estimated cases of Tuberculosis. And according to a new study carried out by Imperial College London, Johns Hopkins University and Avenir Health, the fight against coronavirus could set back efforts to control TB for five to eight years.
“Governments face a tortuous path, navigating between the imminent disaster of Covid-19 and the long-running plague of TB," said Lucica Ditiu, executive director of the Stop TB Partnership, a United Nations-hosted entity, in a press release. The models created by the study predict that the impact of coronavirus could mean that 6.3 million people die of Tuberculosis by 2025, an increase of 1.4 million, CNN reported.
The problem is not just that coronavirus is dominating resources, it is also dominating attention and creating new barriers to care. “Choosing to ignore TB again would erase at least half a decade of hard-earned progress against the world's most deadly infection and make millions more people sick,” Ditiu said. The restrictions implemented to contain coronavirus, like lockdown, mean that fewer TB cases are being detected and those with drug-resistant TB are unable to leave their homes for treatment, reported CNN.
The spread of tuberculosis is not the only issue being amplified by our global emphasis on coronavirus. Dengue, a virus spread by mosquitoes, is experiencing a surge in Latin America, Reuters reported. Dengue creates severe pain in the joints and is not usually fatal, but it can be without treatment. Dengue cases have been declining in Latin America and the Caribbean since an epidemic in 2019, but the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) expects there to be higher than expected rates of dengue in 2020. An increase in dengue could be problematic because recovery from the disease requires intensive care, which may not be available.
Nigeria is in the middle of an active outbreak of Lassa fever, a viral hemorrhagic fever similar to Ebola virus. For context, Lassa has a 26% mortality rate, so it is currently more deadly than coronavirus appears to be. And it is a disease that seems to be localized to Nigeria, so there is little concern about it becoming a pandemic. Still, the current number of outbreaks indicates that Lassa cases could grow exponentially this year, reported Quartz Africa. Public health experts are also urging the U.N. not to forget about cholera, a recent outbreak of which infected over 800,000 people and killed 10,000 in Haiti, reported the New York Times.
Now seems like a good time to remember that while the COVID-19 fire is burning fast and hard right now, there are still other fires. Here’s to hoping that we can allow our vision and our compassion, to grow wide enough to try to find water for them all.