Other diseases must not be forgotten in Covid-19 fight: WHO 

Source: Other diseases must not be forgotten in Covid-19 fight: WHO | The Herald

Other diseases must not be forgotten in Covid-19 fight: WHO
World Health Organization

Rumbidzayi Zinyuke
Senior Health Reporter
While global attention is focussed on Covid-19, it is essential that the major advances in recent years in dealing with HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases are maintained says the World Health Organisation and Zimbabwean medical experts.

President Mnangagwa promised last year to improve health services across the board for all medical conditions and Zimbabwe, as Covid-19 threatened and then struck, mounted a major programme to upgrade the public health service and public health facilities, while hiring more health staff and ensuring the full range of core equipment and drugs were readily available.

Globally, response to Covid-19 has overshadowed other health services for over two years as governments try to mitigate its impact on their populations and economies and this is worrying WHO.

In a report last month WHO said the Covid-19 pandemic exposed widespread inequalities that could significantly affect the achievement of targets in HIV, TB and malaria programmes.

The report, “State of inequality: HIV, tuberculosis and malaria”, showed that testing, treatment and prevention programmes across the world suffered widespread interruptions leading to changes in routine services and heightened stigma, discrimination and fear.

Zimbabwe was among African countries which recorded a decline in malaria diagnosis and treatment while reporting high inequalities between families affected by drug-resistant TB or drug-susceptible TB. Although the Government implemented strategies to ensure that all other health services were not disturbed, the national lockdowns did have an impact on access to health care by many people, especially in rural areas.

Community Working Group on Health executive director Mr Itai Rusike said good strategies would ensure that progress recorded over the past decades in other diseases is not negated.

“While there has been significant progress recorded over the past 20 years in HIV, TB, malaria and other essential health problems, these gains are at serious risk of massive negation on the occasion of the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, going forward there is a need for Covid-19 proofing programming for the three disease components,” he said.

He said the Health and Community Systems Strengthening framework and the Global Fund had already shown commitment to this by supporting the Covid-19 Response Mechanism (C19RM) grant for Zimbabwe which is estimated at around US$75 million.

“More than ever, we need urgent and relentless efforts by the Government, donors, private sector, civil society and communities. This will help sustain efforts to defeat HIV and to mitigate the knock on effects of Covid-19 to avert new infections and deaths,” added Mr Rusike.

“There is a need for greater commitment to health through increased allocation of domestic and international resources for health and the efficient allocation and use of the resources. This will help defeat HIV and Covid-19 and prevent further loss of gains towards the critical fight against HIV. Efforts to defeat the two diseases must guarantee that everyone, everywhere, has access to the healthcare they need whenever they need it.

“Largely, the defeat of HIV as a public health threat and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 3 on the health and well-being for all is dependent on how well Covid-19 is tackled.”

Mr Rusike said the Covid-19 crisis was a wake-up call for many nations and had presented an opportunity to invest better for desired health outcomes.

Chairman of the Mashonaland Faculty of the College of Primary Health Care Physicians of Zimbabwe Dr Enock Mayida buttressed the need to reactivate attention to the management of these diseases.

“Zimbabwe has traditionally had very good public health systems in management of TB , HIV and malaria but the global Covid-19 Pandemic has dwarfed the attention to these public health diseases. There is need to reactivate the attention to the management of these diseases, which continue to be a public health menace, with more focus on prevention and containment of active infections, and a huge public awareness drive,” he said.

Dr Mayida said the general trend of Covid-19 infections was now of a milder form, and awareness and management continued to improve adding natural herd immunity could be attained soon for the containment of the infection.

“But for other diseases like malaria, HIV, TB, they will continue for some time, and the drive to deal with their negative health consequences needs to be increased, with budgetary resources continuously and increasingly focused on them,” he said.

In his World Aids Day remarks, President Mnangagwa expressed the Government’s commitment to widening the scope for mobilising resources to end HIV, inequalities and other pandemics.

He said the prevalence of Covid-19, HIV and AIDS as well as the new threats of non-communicable diseases among other health concerns could not be addressed in silos hence the need for an integrated multi-sectoral approach that relies on robust, resilient health systems and an enabling social, economic and policy environment.