Pandemic threatens campaigns against other diseases

Governments and NGOs are postponing immunizations and other infectious disease efforts due to Covid-19, causing a major disruption to services for prevention or treatment of malaria, measles, polio, and tuberculosis, with grave implications for global health.

WHO cautioned last week that malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa could double this year compared to 2018. The Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI)—a joint project of the American Red Cross, the UN Foundation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, and WHO—warned earlier in the month that more than 117 million children across 37 countries may miss measles vaccinations as preventative campaigns are postponed.

WHO endorsed postponing all preventive campaigns “where there is no active outbreak” in temporary immunization guidance issued in March. M&RI “strongly” agrees with that guidance but urges governments to track unvaccinated children for subsequent measles catch-up initiatives. For its part, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative advised governments this month to postpone preventive polio campaigns “until the second half of 2020” and announced plans to shift surveillance infrastructure and human resources to Covid-19 for “the next four to six months,” while maintaining “critical polio functions.”

Meanwhile, some hospitals and community programs are pulling back on tuberculosis work, including a hold by the endTB Initiative on further enrollment in its Phase 3 trial of a new multidrug-resistant tuberculosis therapy.

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