While global efforts to reduce the number of deaths from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria have saved the lives of thirty-eight million people since 2002, the COVID-19 pandemic could wipe out that progress, an annual report from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria finds.
According to the Results Report 2020 (39 pages, PDF), the Global Fund’s various partnerships helped save six million lives in 2019, a 20 percent increase from 2018, thanks in part to greater efficiencies in service delivery, increased success in finding and treating people, additional cost savings from a range of health products, and more effective collaboration. In 2019, 20.1 million people received antiretroviral therapy for HIV, 5.7 million people were tested and treated for TB, and a hundred and sixty million mosquito nets were distributed. Overall, annual deaths from AIDS, TB, and malaria have been reduced by nearly half since the peak of those epidemics in countries where the Global Fund invests.
At the same time, the report warns that much of that progress could be derailed by the knock-on effects of the pandemic. With approximately three-quarters of the fund’s programs suspended as a result of COVID-related restrictions, the volume of HIV testing has been halved in some countries, new TB case notifications have fallen by as much as 75 percent, and mosquito net distributions have been delayed. As a result, the report suggests, malaria, TB, and HIV infections could soar over the next twelve months, raising the number of AIDS-related deaths to 2008 levels, the number of TB deaths to 2009 levels, and the number of deaths from malaria to 2000 levels.
“Deaths from the three epidemics may as much as double in the coming year as health and community systems are overwhelmed, treatment and prevention programs are disrupted, and resources are diverted,” the report’s authors write.
To prevent such a scenario, a Global Fund report released in June estimates that an additional $28.5 billion in funding will be needed over the next year in four key areas: adapting HIV, TB, and malaria programs to mitigate the impact of COVID-19; training and protecting health workers; strengthening public health systems to prevent their collapse; and responding swiftly to COVID-19 outbreaks through testing, tracing, isolation, and treatments (as they become available). Since March, the fund has approved approximately $700 million for COVID-related efforts in a hundred and three countries and eleven multi-country programs.
“This is an inflection point,” said Global Fund executive director Peter Sands. “We can surrender the gains we have made against HIV, TB, and malaria, and allow our progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals to be sharply reversed. Or we can act with speed and scale, investing far greater resources than have yet been committed, to counter both the direct impact of COVID-19 and to mitigate the knock-on consequences for HIV, TB, and malaria.”