Coronavirus in Africa: How the pandemic complicates the fight against other diseasesIn the shadow of the corona crisis, well-known infectious diseases are threatening to flare up again in Africa. Cases of Ebola have also reappeared.
With under 50.000 infections and less than 2000 deaths, Africa has not yet felt the full impact of the Corona pandemic. However, there are already signs that the indirect consequences of the wave of infections could be even more dangerous for the continent than the direct ones. The current concentration of forces on the anti-Corona fight threatens to push other epidemics into the background, experts warn.
Currently, around 380 people die every year.000 Africans are suffering from malaria – a figure that could double in the coming year, the World Health Organization's Africa Director, Matshidiso Moeti, recently announced. Malaria is just one of many epidemic diseases facing the continent: measles, HIV-Aids, Lassa fever and Ebola are some of the others.
Considerable progress has been made in the fight against malaria over the past two decades. The Global Coalition Against Malaria distributed two billion impregnated mosquito nets worldwide, Western medicine discovered the Artemisia plant as the basis of a more effective cure, and researchers were even on the verge of introducing a malaria vaccine when the Corona pandemic hit the continent.
New polio cases emerged in Africa
Since the millennium, these achievements have dramatically reduced annual malaria deaths – progress that now threatens to be reversed. Francis Kimani of Kenya's Medical Research Institute fears the same: if specialists, resources and logistics are diverted from the fight against malaria to the campaign against Corona, a relapse into the conditions of the last century is to be expected in the matter of malaria. For over 600.000 Africans this would mean death.
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Just a few weeks ago, the world was preparing for the ceremonial end of polio: Global vaccination campaigns had nearly eradicated the poliovirus. But recently, new cases of the paralytic disease have again been reported from Niger and other African countries: They are attributed to the suspension of vaccinations due to the Corona pandemic.
For reasons of both capacity and epidemiology, the WHO was forced to suspend its vaccination campaigns, at least temporarily: The danger that the coronavirus could be spread with the campaigns was also too great. Now the final victory over polio must at least be postponed.
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The Ebola epidemic in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has also flared up again in the shadow of the coronavirus. There, too, people were already preparing to celebrate the triumph over the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history, with some 2200 deaths. The population of the giant African nation is currently dealing with four epidemics: Corona, Ebola, HIV-AIDS and measles.
Vaccination campaigns against measles have been suspended
Even if measles is now (wrongly) considered a harmless childhood disease in Europe: In Africa, the viral infection still has deadly consequences. According to WHO estimates, around 1.7 million people have been infected on the susceptible continent in 2018 alone, of whom 50.000 died. The currently rampant measles epidemic in the Congo has already claimed the lives of over 6000 people. Vaccination campaigns against measles have now been suspended in many African countries, such as South Sudan, Ethiopia and Nigeria. As a result, 21 million children alone are no longer protected against the virus, the WHO calculates.
And this was not even mentioning other neglected tropical diseases – such as Lassa fever, elephantiasis, sleeping sickness or schistosomiasis. Even in "normal" times, only 0.6 percent of global health costs are spent on these infectious diseases, which affect some 600 million people worldwide (almost half of them Africans) – even though these diseases could either be eradicated altogether or effectively combated with comparatively small resources.
The huge holes that the Corona pandemic is currently tearing in health budgets preclude these diseases from being eradicated anytime soon.
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In the coming months, UN relief agencies will also have a different problem: how to reach the 76 million people in Africa who already depend on their aid, despite the collapse of air travel. The Corona pandemic threatens to double this number in the coming months.