DURBAN – As the world is currently fixated over the Coronavirus, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the current focus on Covid-19 risks pushing aside other health crises in the minds of the public.
When the world eventually moves past the Covid-19 crisis, some experts predict the virus will not simply go away – rather, they say it could become endemic with seasonal outbreaks.
WHO says tuberculosis (TB) is the world’s deadliest infectious disease. According to the latest available statistics, 10 million people fell ill with TB and 1.5 million died of it in 2018.
The occurrence of TB has been falling gradually, but drug resistance remains a challenge to pushing numbers down further. Nearly half a million cases were drug-resistant, requiring long and expensive treatment.
According to the WHO, more than 9 out of 10 cases – and deaths – malaria cases occur in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2018, worldwide cases totalled an estimated 228 million worldwide, with 405,000 deaths. Malaria is also on the UN’s 2030 target list for eradication.
UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore said: “We cannot let our fight against one disease come at the expense of long-term progress in our fight against other diseases. We have effective vaccines against measles, polio and cholera. While circumstances may require us to temporarily pause some immunization efforts, these immunizations must restart as soon as possible, or we risk exchanging one deadly outbreak for another.”
The world is currently experiencing the seventh cholera pandemic, which has now persisted for over 50 years, with recurrent outbreaks. Last year, a WHO study surveying 34 countries noted a 60 percent decline in cholera between 2017 and 2018. But with many cases not being reported, the real numbers globally could be significantly higher.
“The highest number of cases occurred in the Asia region, which includes the Middle East and a large outbreak in Yemen in 2018, with close to 375,000 people falling ill. But the most deaths – over 5,000 – occurred in sub-Saharan Africa,” said the organization.
WHO estimates that 2.6 million were killed by measles each year before vaccinations and epidemics occurred every two to three years. Since 2000, immunization has brought the death rate down by nearly three-quarters, preventing some 23 million deaths. In the first half of 2019, more than 500,000 measles cases were recorded, with large outbreaks around the world, including Europe and the US.
“Today, the overall number of cases may have reduced, but the epidemic is far from over. Some areas are even reporting increases and there are about 100 health zones where action is urgently needed,” said Emmanuel Lampaert, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) operations coordinator in DRC.
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