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Coronavirus Fight Takes Resources, Progress from Other Diseases


In this March 24, 2014, file photo, a doctor examines a tuberculosis patient in a government TB hospital in Allahabad, India.
Coronavirus Fight Takes Resources, Progress from Other Diseases
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Lavina D’Souza has not been able to get the medicine she needs since India ordered its citizens last month to stay at home. The order was meant to help the country’s 1.3 billion people guard against the new coronavirus.

The Indian government supplies the anti-HIV medication to D’Souza. She uses it to fight off the virus that causes AIDS.

D’Souza is now stuck in a small city away from her home in Mumbai. She has none of the medication she needs to manage her disease. The 43-year-old is afraid that her health will fail.

“Any disease, the coronavirus or something else, I’ll fall sick faster,” she told The Associated Press.

D’Souza said others also must be “suffering because of the coronavirus without getting infected by it.”

As the world directs its attention to the pandemic, experts fear other infectious diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and cholera will be ignored. Such diseases kill millions of people every year. Also at risk are the long-time public health efforts that helped the World Health Organization set target dates for ending malaria, polio and other illnesses.

The coronavirus crisis has led to crowded hospitals. It is redirecting medical efforts, causing supply shortages and suspending healthcare services. And experts like John Nkengasong say their greatest fear is medical resources for other diseases being taken away. He is a doctor and head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or Africa CDC.

The issue is greater in countries with already struggling healthcare systems, like Sudan. Doctors at Al-Ribat National Hospital in the capital, Khartoum, shared a document detailing healthcare measures nationwide. It shows fewer patients being admitted to emergency rooms, a delay in non-emergency surgeries and stoppage of day-to-day care for non-critical cases. In addition, skilled doctors are being told to treat patients with COVID-19, the disease resulting from the coronavirus.

Tuberculosis will rise

Similar measures are taking place in other countries, even those with highly-developed healthcare systems, such as South Korea. There, patients seeking treatment for diseases like tuberculosis, or TB, are being refused, notes Hojoon Sohn, who is with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is based in South Korea.

Of the world’s 10 million TB cases each year, about 30 percent are never diagnosed. And a lack of needed care is mainly an issue in 10 the countries with the most infections, Sohn said.

He added that the undiagnosed are people who likely would not seek medical care in normal situations. So with the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders, it is highly probable the number of undiagnosed TB patients will rise.

In this April 2, 2020, file photo, medical workers prepare to test people for COVID-19 at a testing clinic in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa.
In this April 2, 2020, file photo, medical workers prepare to test people for COVID-19 at a testing clinic in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa.

Secondary effects

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is trying to recover from years of violent conflict and the latest outbreak of Ebola. The new coronavirus comes as a measles outbreak in Congo has killed over 6,000 people, said Anne-Marie Connor. She is national director for World Vision, an aid organization.

The secondary effects of the coronavirus pandemic are not limited to treatment. Other issues, like having transportation during a stay-at-home order, are threatening India’s progress on TB. Patients and doctors cannot get to clinics and it is difficult to send medical tests to laboratories.

India has nearly a third of the world’s TB cases and diagnosing patients has been delayed in many areas. Yogesh Jain and other doctors fear that means TB cases would surely increase. Jain works in Charrisgarth, one of India’s poorest states.

Coronavirus-related stay-at-home orders also are a barrier to the flow of supplies, including critical medicine, protective clothing and oxygen, said Dr. Marc Biot. He is director of operations for aid group Doctors Without Borders.

Vaccinations suspended

The fear of some diseases returning is growing because of delays in efforts to vaccinate more than 13.5 million people. That information comes from the international vaccine alliance GAVI.

The group said 21 countries are reporting vaccine shortages following border closures and changes to air travel, mostly in Africa. And 14 vaccination campaigns for diseases like polio and measles have been delayed.

The Measles & Rubella Initiative said measles vaccination campaigns in 24 countries are already delayed. The group fears more than 117 million children in 37 countries may miss out.

Mosquito-borne illnesses

Programs to prevent mosquito-related diseases also have been affected. In Sri Lanka, cases of dengue were nearly double last year compared to the number in 2018. But health workers now have to put their efforts into finding suspected COVID-19 patients. That has ended their usual work of destroying mosquito breeding areas at homes, said Dr. Anura Jayasekara. She is director of Sri Lanka’s National Dengue Control Unit.

During a pandemic, history shows that other diseases can return in high numbers. Health providers are trying to ease the crisis by giving months of supplies to people with some diseases, such as hepatitis C, HIV and TB.

I’m Alice Bryant.

The Associated Press reported this story. Alice Bryant adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

manage - v. to take care of and make decisions about

pandemic - n. an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area

resource - n. a supply of something that someone has and can use when it is needed

surgery - n. medical treatment in which a doctor cuts into someone's body in order to repair or remove damaged parts

diagnose - v. to recognize a disease or illness by examining someone

outbreak - n. a sudden start or increase of disease

clinic - n. a place where people get medical help

mosquito - n. a small flying insect that bites the skin of people and animals and sucks their blood

breed - v. to produce young animals or insects

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