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The battle of the plagues

by Felix Richter

As many countries are heading into the holiday period, with family gatherings and other social events abound, the Omicron variant is powering a surge in Covid cases in large parts of the world. In the United States for example, the CDC reported 288,000 new cases on Monday, the second highest total since the start of the pandemic.

In a media briefing on Monday, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, rang the alarm bells, urging people to reconsider their holiday plans. “All of us are sick of this pandemic. All of us want to spend time with friends and family,” he said. However, “an event cancelled is better than a life cancelled,” he pointedly added, concluding that “it’s better to cancel now and celebrate later, than to celebrate now and grieve later.”

In the same briefing, the WHO chief also quoted some grim numbers, putting the pandemic’s death toll in perspective. According to WHO data as of December 21, 3.45 million people have died from Covid-19 so far this year, exceeding last year’s deaths from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and Malaria combined. And that’s not counting the excess deaths caused by disruptions to essential health services.

In order to finally end the pandemic in 2022, Dr. Tedros is calling for the global community to end the unequal distribution of existing vaccines. “If we are to end the pandemic in the coming year, we must end inequity, by ensuring 70% of the population of every country is vaccinated by the middle of next year,” he said.

This article above, which was first published on,
updates but does not overtake the below:

Covid-19’s ‘devastating impact’ on HIV, TB, malaria programmes

GENEVA, September 8 – The Covid-19 pandemic had a devastating impact on the fight against HIV, TB and malaria in 2020, with key programmatic results having declined for the first time in the history of the Global Fund.

“To mark our 20th anniversary, we had hoped to focus this year’s Results Report on the extraordinary stories of courage and resilience that made possible the progress we have achieved against HIV, TB and malaria over the last two decades,” Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund, is quoted as saying in its new report.

“The 2020 numbers force a different focus. They confirm what we feared might happen when Covid-19 struck.”

The Results Report reveals the severe impact the pandemic had on the fight against TB worldwide. In 2020, the number of people treated for drug-resistant TB in the countries where the Global Fund invests dropped by 19%, with those on treatment for extensively drug-resistant TB registering a drop of 37%. The number of HIV-positive TB patients on antiretroviral treatment as well as TB treatment dropped by 16%.

The report also highlights significant declines in HIV testing and prevention services for key and vulnerable populations who were already disproportionately affected. Compared with 2019, people reached with HIV prevention programmes and services declined by 11%, while young people reached with prevention services declined by 12%. Mothers receiving medicine to prevent transmitting HIV to their babies dropped by 4.5%. HIV testing dropped by 22%, holding back HIV treatment initiation in most countries.

Interventions to combat malaria appear to have been less badly affected by Covid-19 than the other two diseases. Thanks to adaptation measures and the diligence and innovation of community health workers, prevention activities remained stable or increased compared to 2019.

The number of mosquito nets distributed increased by 17%, structures covered by indoor residual spraying increased by 3%. In 2020, 11.5 million pregnant women received preventive therapy. However, suspected cases of malaria tested fell by 4.3% and progress against the disease stalled.

The Global Fund partnership’s rapid and determined response to the pandemic prevented an even worse outcome.

In 2020, the Global Fund disbursed US$4.2 billion to continue the fight against HIV, TB and malaria and strengthen systems for health and approved an additional US$980 million in funding to respond to Covid-19.

As of August 2021, the Global Fund has approved a total of US$3.3 billion to more than 100 countries to adapt lifesaving HIV, TB and malaria programmes, provide critical tests, treatments and medical supplies, protect frontline health workers and urgently reinforce fragile systems for health.

These investments along with fast action and funding from donors, governments, communities and health partners helped mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on HIV, TB and malaria and achieve the progress made in the fight against the three diseases.

Key Results for 2020 in countries where the Global Fund invests include:

  • 21.9 million people received lifesaving antiretroviral therapy for HIV in 2020, an 8.8% increase compared to 2019
  • 8.7 million people reached with HIV prevention services
  • 4.7 million people treated for TB
  • 194,000 children in contact with exposed to TB patients received preventative therapy
  • 188 million mosquito nets distributed to protect families from malaria, a 17% increase on 2019. 

“The Global Fund partnership continues to save lives,” said Sands. “In the face of the extraordinary challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, our partnership demonstrated flexibility and determination, delivering medicine, supplies and care to millions of people around the world.

“Countries we invest in responded quickly to Covid-19 using the same laboratories, disease surveillance, community networks, trained health workers and supply chains that were created to fight HIV, TB and malaria.”

Peter Sands, Executive Director, Global Fund

Since its inception in 2002, the Global Fund partnership has saved 44 million lives. The number of deaths caused by Aids, TB and malaria decreased by 46%* in countries where the Global Fund invests.

These achievements are a result of efforts by a wide array of actors comprising the Global Fund partnership, including implementer governments, multilateral agencies, bilateral partners, civil society groups, people affected by the diseases and the private sector.

“Despite the horrible toll Covid-19 has taken, the pandemic presents us with a chance to build a better, more equitable and healthier world,” concluded Sands.

“Together, we have changed the trajectory of HIV, TB and malaria and we are determined to continue to do so. If we continue to innovate and collaborate – at global, national and local levels – we can end HIV, TB and malaria, beat Covid-19 and build a much stronger foundation for pandemic preparedness and response.”

  • Data as of end-2020 for HIV; as of end-2019 for malaria and tuberculosis (2020 data not available at time of publishing)

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