Coronavirus could erode global fight against other diseases

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Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE- In this March 24, 2018, file photo, a tuberculosis patient sits on a bed at a TB hospital in Gauhati, India. Doctors fear that the focus on the coronavirus pandemic could waylay efforts to combat other diseases. Resources to fight illnesses like tuberculosis, HIV and cholera that kill millions every year could be depleted by the pandemic's toll on hospitals, medical workers and supplies. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath, File)

NEW DELHI – Lavina D’Souza hasn’t been able to collect her government-supplied anti-HIV medication since the abrupt lockdown of India's 1.3 billion people last month during the coronavirus outbreak.

Marooned in a small city away from her home in Mumbai, the medicine she needs to manage her disease has run out. The 43-year-old is afraid that her immune system will crash: “Any disease, the coronavirus or something else, I'll fall sick faster."

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

As the world focuses on the pandemic, experts fear losing ground in the long fight against other infectious diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and cholera that kill millions every year. Also at risk are decadeslong efforts that allowed the World Health Organization to set target dates for eradicating malaria, polio and other illnesses.

With the coronavirus overwhelming hospitals, redirecting medical staff, causing supply shortages and suspending health services, “our greatest fear” is resources for other diseases being diverted and depleted, said Dr. John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That is compounded in countries with already overburdened health care systems, like Sudan. Doctors at Al-Ribat National Hospital in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, shared a document detailing nationwide measures: fewer patients admitted to emergency rooms, elective surgeries indefinitely postponed, primary care eliminated for non-critical cases, and skilled doctors transferred to COVID-19 patients.

Similar scenes are unfolding worldwide. Even in countries with highly developed health care systems, such as South Korea, patients seeking treatment for diseases like TB had to be turned away, said Hojoon Sohn, of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who is based in South Korea.

About 30% of global TB cases — out of 10 million each year — are never diagnosed, and the gaps in care are concentrated in 10 countries with the most infections, Sohn said.