By James Muonwa
THE Covid-19 pandemic drastically cut back the gains made so far in the fight against three epidemics, namely HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria, a Global Fund (GF) top official has said.
In a note to mark the universal fund’s 20th anniversary this week, GF executive secretary, Peter Sands said successes of the last two decades had been wiped out.
In many countries, Sands said, Covid-19 has overwhelmed health systems, lockdowns have disrupted service provisions, and critical resources have been diverted from the fight against HIV, TB, and malaria to fight the new pandemic.
“In those two decades, we have made remarkable progress against HIV, TB, and malaria. But as we celebrate this milestone, we face a new and sobering reality: Covid-19 is reversing many hard-fought gains in the fight against these diseases.
“To mark our 20th anniversary, we had hoped to focus this year’s Results Report on the extraordinary stories of courage and resilience that made possible the progress we have achieved against HIV, TB, and malaria over the last two decades, celebrating the countless heroes across the GF partnership who have worked so hard and given so much to beat back the three epidemics,” Sands said.
He added: “But the 2020 numbers force a different focus. The impact of Covid-19 on the fight against HIV, TB, and malaria and the communities we support has been devastating. For the first time in the history of the GF, key programmatic results have gone backward.”
He said the strain of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) was worsened as patients were more likely to default on treatment during the Covid-19 pandemic, with health systems in many countries under acute stress.
Said Sands: “The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the fight against TB worldwide has been devastating. Between 2019 and 2020, the number of people treated for MDR-TB in the countries where the GF invests dropped by a staggering 19%, with those on treatment for extensively drug-resistant TB registering an even bigger drop of 37%, the number of HIV-positive TB patients on antiretroviral treatment as well as TB treatment dropped by 16%.”
He added around one million fewer people with TB were treated in 2020 compared to 2019.
“The impact of Covid-19 on the fight against HIV has also been significant. While it is encouraging that the number of HIV-positive people receiving antiretroviral treatment has continued to increase – by 9% – the declines in prevention services and testing are alarming.
“Compared with 2019, people reached with HIV prevention programmes and services declined by 11% while young people reached with prevention services declined by 12%.”
Medical male circumcision for HIV prevention declined by 27% while HIV tests declined by 22%.
“Because of the disruptions resulting from Covid-19, the people at greatest risk of infection have had less access to the information and tools they needed to protect themselves.
“After so many years of hard-fought gains, it would be a tragedy to see new HIV infections rise again,” said the GF boss.
Sanders said interventions to combat malaria appear to have been less disrupted by Covid-19 than the other two diseases.
“Progress against the disease stalled. We did not see the year-on-year growth in the provision of malaria services that we need to beat the disease. These numbers are stark confirmation of what we feared might happen when Covid-19 struck.”
The GF is a major funder of the National Aids Council (NAC) programmes in Zimbabwe.