Millions At Risk From Known Diseases As Focus Shifts To COVID-19

A passenger in a wheelchair from the Princess Cruises Grand Princess cruise ship is assisted in boarding a charter plane at Oakland International Airport on March 10, 2020 in Oakland, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP.

 

As COVID-19 deaths climb ever higher in Europe and the United States, millions of lives are at risk in developing nations where lockdowns and overwhelmed medical systems are disrupting vital testing, vaccination and treatment for other killer diseases.

The pandemic has seen unprecedented social distancing measures, with billions confined to their homes in a bid to stem the viral spread. Schools, businesses and public spaces have been shuttered en masse.

It has also fuelled unparalleled economic stimuli from governments and research funding to develop COVID-19 treatments and — the holy grail — a vaccine.

But while the world is focused on the novel coronavirus, other infectious diseases continue to kill millions of humans, many of them children.

Health experts warn that the COVID-19 pandemic is already denying untold numbers of patients treatment for illnesses such as tuberculosis, pneumonia and malaria.

The United Nation’s child care programme UNICEF said last month that 117 million children were now at risk of contracting measles as vaccination programmes are suspended.

“In some places, routine services have been suspended also because the health systems are so stretched, all resources are being diverted to the COVID response,” Robin Nandy, head of UNICEF’s immunisation programme, told AFP.

“Countries want to limit the contact of health people with potential patients, and this has an impact on vaccination coverage.”

Measles killed more than 140,000 people in 2018, the vast majority aged under five.

– ‘Sleepless nights for a decade’ –

More than 2,500 children die every day from pneumonia — a bacterial infection treated with effective drugs that cost pennies. That’s more than 800,000 preventable child deaths a year, studies have shown.

In Nigeria, where pneumonia is the leading cause of under-five mortality, fears are growing that COVID-19 is already keeping infants from accessing live-saving interventions.

“We see a lot of children coming to clinics having respiratory problems and the issue is with diagnosis and treatment,” said Sanjana Bhardwaj, UNICEF chief of health in Nigeria.

“Another challenge is we do not have oxygen available across the country for children.”

And that was before the onset of COVID-19, a disease where treatment often requires placing patients on ventilators of oxygen.

“I’ve been having sleepless nights for more than a decade (about a pandemic),” Bhardwaj told AFP.

“When you’re at the frontline and you go into communities and see the healthcare there you just get scared.”

The Democratic Republic of Congo was suffering from multiple disease outbreaks even before COVID-19.

A measles epidemic there has killed more than 6,000 people — again, mostly children — since the start of 2019.

Malaria is a constant menace for infants in DR Congo and kills around 13,000 people there annually.

And last month the World Health Organization was forced to delay an announcement heralding the end of the country’s Ebola crisis as new cases were discovered.

“We already had significant morbidities such as malaria that was a huge problem, as well as malnutrition which really impacts children’s lives,” Alex Mutanganyi, Save The Children’s COVID-19 response coordinator in the country, told AFP.

“COVID-19 has just increased the threats that always existed.”

– Vaccine development, reach –

Billions of dollars are currently being funnelled to research for a COVID-19 vaccine, without which scientists doubt economies can fully return to normal.

More than 100 candidate vaccines exist, and around 70 of them are already being tested in clinical trials.

On Wednesday, the Stop TB Partnership warned that coronavirus lockdowns could lead to as many as 1.4 million additional tuberculosis deaths, as testing and treatment programmes are disrupted.

TB is the world’s biggest infectious disease killer, with around 10 million new infections and 1.5 million deaths annually.

Unlike COVID-19, effective, safe and cheap treatments for TB already exist.

The only current vaccine is more than 100 years old and only works on very young children. And despite being the deadliest infectious disease on Earth, TB research funding is still dwarfed by that given over to HIV and, now, COVID-19.

Lucica Ditiu, executive director of the Stop TB Partnership, said that it would cost around $500 million to finish developing a safe and universally effective TB vaccine.

“TB has been with us for thousands of years. For 100 years we’ve had an infant vaccine and we have two or three potential vaccines in the pipeline,” she said.

“We look on in amazement at a disease that is 120 days old and it has 100 vaccine candidates in the pipeline. This is really fucked up.”

Ditiu said that while governments are rightly focused on COVID-19, they mustn’t take their eye off of other communicable illnesses.

“TB doesn’t affect too many visible people. It’s a disease for people with other vulnerabilities, poor people, ones living in poor parts of the city,” she said.

“The fear we have is that developing a vaccine for COVID-19 now… may take the focus off of other diseases.”

Not that finding a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine will be enough to guarantee an end to the pandemic.

“We need to be mindful that even with existing vaccines that we have had for decades, we’re still not reaching the populations that need them most,” said Nandy.

UNICEF said last month that around 20 million children worldwide were missing out on routine vaccinations, with 13 million never receiving immunisation.

“Developing a vaccine is not enough. Vaccines don’t deliver themselves. They need a functioning health system,” Nandy added.

– ‘Staying alive is work’ –

COVID-19 is not just exposing the gaps in global responses for communicable diseases. Hundreds of millions of people need daily medication to manage a host of chronic conditions, from diabetes to high blood pressure.

Last week the Non-Communicable Disease Alliance called on governments to ensure that people living with these illnesses can continue to receive vital treatment during the pandemic.

While estimates vary, it is thought that as many as 175 million people suffer from undiagnosed diabetes and up to one billion from undiagnosed hypertension.

Not only does this pose a hidden risk of COVID-19 complications for hundreds of millions globally, but it also makes managing diagnosed disease harder.

Vicki Atkinson, a health campaigner with the South Africa NCD Alliance, said that the No. 1 killer among women there was diabetes — a condition that can be well managed with daily medication.

Atkinson, who herself suffers from diabetes and psoriasis, set up an information helpline so patients know how to access medical care during the lockdown. It was inundated with calls.

“One woman was told to take a taxi two hours to go to a regional hospital in Cape Town to pick up her medicine,” she told AFP.

“She is pregnant, on insulin and asthmatic. She didn’t want to do it.”

The NCD Alliance warned of “severe disruptions” to global supply lines of medicine and biomedical equipment due to COVID-19.

Atkinson and other health experts said the current pandemic had proven what they have been warning of for decades: the world is unhealthy, and health should not be taken for granted.

“Without this people would have carried on as normal,” she said.

“Across the board, we cannot pretend anymore. Chronic illness should be viewed as work. It’s work to stay alive.”

AFP

Mozambique Cyclone Survivors Face ‘Ticking Bomb’ Of Disease

People are escorted to safety by aid workers at the airport of the coastal city of Beira in central Mozambique on March 19, 2019, after the area was hit by the Cyclone Idai. ADRIEN BARBIER / AFP

 

The Red Cross warned Monday that survivors of a powerful cyclone that pummelled southern Africa face “a ticking bomb” of a disease even as aid workers reached those affected by the storm.

Cyclone Idai smashed into Mozambique’s coast, unleashing hurricane-force wind and rain that flooded swathes of the poor country before battering eastern Zimbabwe — killing 706 people across the two nations.

The head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Elhadj As Sy said “we are sitting on a ticking bomb” as he called for renewed efforts to address the worsening health situation.

READ ALSO: More Than 1,000 Feared Dead In Mozambique Storm

As logistical conditions improved and roads to affected communities have been reconnected, the full scale of the humanitarian crisis has been revealed for the first time since the storm struck on March 15.

More than two million people have been affected in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi where the storm started as a tropical depression causing flooding which killed 60 and displaced nearly a million people. Hundreds are still missing in Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

“The conditions for rescue are improving. Yesterday a road reopened which was really important to allow officials to work and rescue,” Mozambique’s Land Minister Celso Correa told reporters.

‘Children looking for their parents’ 

“We’ve got 30 missions flying today and some going by road so we can really deliver volume,” said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ Sebastian Rhodes Stampa.

“We are packing food and shelter now — they will go out tomorrow both north and south”.

Stampa stressed that efforts to rebuild infrastructure damaged in the cyclone were temporary and not lasting repairs.

“They are repairing for now,” to allow aid through, he said.

Buzi, one of the worst hit towns located 30 kilometres (19 miles) southwest of Beira, became reachable by road on Monday — for the first time since the storm hit.

“It will now be much faster to deliver aid,” Stampa added.

Sy, who had just returned from the region, warned of a “high risk of water-borne diseases” like cholera and typhus — as well as malaria, which is endemic in the region.

The United Nations has also warned that stagnant water in many areas, decomposing bodies and the lack of sanitation in overcrowded shelters in Mozambique could create breeding grounds for such diseases.

The government has already identified some suspected but unconfirmed cases of cholera, Sy said.

“That is the reason why I am raising the alarm. Many of these water-borne diseases are a great risk, but they are preventable,” he added.

“The worst thing is the children crying and looking for their parents… It is heartbreaking,” he said, adding that it remained unclear how many children may have been orphaned.

AFP

Delta Govt. Fumigates Market Against Lassa Fever

Delta, Market, Lassa Fever DiseaseThe Delta State Ministry of Environment has taken precautionary steps to prevent the spread of diseases such as the dreaded Lassa fever.

The State Commissioner for Environment, John Nani, explained that the deadly effects of these diseases on residents of the state necessitated proper fumigation of the environment.

Mr Nani was briefing reporters on Thursday at the busy Ogbeogonogo Market in Asaba, the Delta State capital in south-south Nigeria.

He was at the market to oversee a fumigation exercise which they tagged “operation kill the rats”, in order to take preventive measures against the spread of Lassa fever and other related diseases.

The Commissioner stated that making sure the environment was safe and clean from rats was a sure way to achieve a disease-free environment in the state.

He said that the fumigation exercise would be extended to other markets and dumpsites, while urging residents of the state not to drop the guard against the deadly disease.

The traders at the market commended the effort of the government in keeping their environment safe from deadly diseases.

The Lassa fever is an acute illness transmitted through contaminated food by rodents’ urine and excreta.

NMA Stages National Campaign Against Obesity

NMA, ObesityThe Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) says it has led a national campaign against obesity and other forms of unhealthy lifestyles for healthy living.

The Chairperson of the FCT branch of the NMA, Fatima Mairami, disclosed this during a road walk in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

She said that obesity and other forms of unhealthy lifestyles had claimed lives of professionals and non-professionals alike.

According to the medic, the campaign was targeted at creating public awareness on the need to engage in regular exercise and live a healthy lifestyle as one way to prevent the diseases.

15 million Nigerians suffer from chest-related diseases

No fewer than fifteen million Nigerians are currently suffering from asthma, tuberculosis and other chest related diseases.

The national president of Nigerian Thoracic Society; Professor Greg Erhosa announced this while briefing newsmen at an annual national conference of the society in Ilorin.

He attributed the high number of Nigerians suffering from asthma and other chest diseases to lack of preventive measures adding that the chronic disease has claimed lives of several eminent Nigerians and the downtrodden.

The need for the establishment of thoracic health centres in each of the six geopolitical zones in the country he believed would address the challenges while also urging the three tiers of governments to set aside funds for the prevention and care of the chest related disease