Coughs ring out in the air as overrun hospitals desperately seek to revive their patients. Nurses and doctors in personal protective equipment (PPE) scramble around, tired and overworked. Eventually COVID-19 cases start falling at steady rates, and the world breathes a sigh of relief as health care workers push back another wave of infections propelled by holiday travels in 2021. Little did they know, other infectious diseases like tuberculosis and HIV, neglected and overshadowed due to the ongoing pandemic, were making a comeback in the dark.
Tuberculosis (TB) is a highly infectious bacterial disease that targets the lungs, leading to extreme coughing and chest pains. It kills roughly 1.5 million people annually, and in 2018 alone, this disease had infected 1.7 billion people . However, with medical innovations like rapid blood tests and Directly Observed Therapy, TB cases have fell by 11% between 2015 to 2020 . One of the reasons why tuberculosis affects humans easily is because of another lethal disease called human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This disease weakens the immune system to the point where even getting a cold may prove fatal, which is why TB bacteria are able to infect the lungs with ease . Nonetheless, thanks to medical innovations such as antiretroviral drugs and testing kits, new HIV infections in 2020 have been reduced by 31%, with the total number of infected at 37.7 million people worldwide .
However, the toil and sweat leading to improvements against these diseases may have been done in vain as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the world in 2022. Since the emergence of the pandemic, governments, research facilities and hospitals have been directing an abundance of resources and money to defend humans from the coronavirus. While this is certainly beneficial, dedicating so much effort into one disease leaves other diseases like TB and HIV unchecked. Apoorva Mandavilli from the New York Times writes, “about 80% of tuberculosis, HIV and malaria programs worldwide have reported disruptions in services, and one in four people living with HIV have reported problems with gaining access to medications” . Since many people are afraid of contracting COVID-19, there has been a significant decrease in the number of people being diagnosed with TB or HIV, not because the diseases are slowly going away but because clinics have either shut down or because people have stopped going to clinics due to lockdowns. International travel has also been hindered, which is especially devastating to third world countries suffering from these infectious diseases. In a report by Leslie Roberts from the Nature journal, she remarks that, “HIV testing fell by 22%, delaying treatment and contributing to ongoing transmission of the virus” . From these statistics, there is a clear sign that doctors, medical supplies and many more crucial factors involved in treating patients were not attainable for a long time due to lockdowns, quarantines and restrictions in international airways.
The disruptions that COVID-19 has caused can set back progress against HIV and TB by 20 years, which brings humanity a step back, claiming the lives of millions of people worldwide. The ones most affected by COVID are those in third world countries where health disparities exist most noticeably. Without advanced medical technology, supplies and qualified doctors, these countries will see a devastating rise in HIV and TB. As 2022 progresses, COVID-19 infections have dropped significantly, however, this means that attention should immediately be redirected to these other infectious diseases that have made a comeback during the pandemic. The fight to bring humanity back to rejuvenation is far from over.
Edited by: Vicky Cadena
Illustrated by: Angela Chen