By: Christopher Sirota, CPCU
The New York Times has reported that the COVID-19 crisis is interfering with activities to limit the spread of more familiar diseases, such as Tuberculosis (TB), H.I.V. and malaria.
Per the article, worldwide lockdowns to contain the COVID-19 virus are slowing, or even preventing, access to medical diagnoses and drug treatments for other diseases across the world, specifically in Asia, Latin America and Africa.
In some cases, patients are reportedly reluctant to visit medical providers out of fear of contracting the COVID-19 virus. In other cases, many clinics have simply been closed. Shipments of medications have also reportedly been hampered by various travel limitations.
Estimates of Potential Impact from the COVID-19 Crisis
Sources: World Health Organization (WHO) 2019 (TB), 2019 (H.I.V.), 2018 and potential (Malaria) and Stop TB Partnership (a collaboration of Imperial College, Avenir Health, Johns Hopkins University and USAID) potential (TB)
Potential Consequences for Dedicating Efforts to Focus Only on COVID-19
According to the article, the medical systems in many countries have begun to focus on diagnosing and treating only COVID-19, sometimes possibly conflating symptoms of TB with COVID-19. Some clinics reportedly may even have the technology to genetically diagnose TB and H.I.V. but have chosen a protocol to only look for signs of COVID-19.
What might occur if a patient is misdiagnosed with COVID-19? Per the Times, patients with undiagnosed TB can become even more contagious and can possibly infect 15 more people over the period of one year. And, similar to the COVID-19 virus, the TB "bacterium spreads most efficiently in indoor air and among people in close contact."
Furthermore, there may reportedly be a financial disincentive for manufacturers to continue to create diagnostic tests for diseases such as TB and malaria because COVID-19 diagnostic tests are more profitable; for example, a malaria test can cost 18 cents, whereas a COVID-19 test can cost ten dollars.
More Drug-Resistant Diseases on the Horizon?
H.I.V. and TB patients may be skipping doses of medications because of shortages resulting from supply chain disruptions. Per the Times, some experts are worried because this behavior can create drug-resistant versions of the diseases. According to the World Health Organization (W.H.O), drug-resistant TB has been rising worldwide, with an estimated 558,000 cases in 2017; regions especially affected are India and China. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) further highlights that:
[d]rug-susceptible TB and drug-resistant TB are spread the same way. TB bacteria are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. These bacteria can float in the air for several hours, depending on the environment. Persons who breathe in the air containing these TB bacteria can become infected.