Fight against AIDS, TB and malaria bounced back post-COVID - but not enough

·2 min read

(Corrects to clarify data is from 2022 report, covering 2021 data)

By Jennifer Rigby

LONDON (Reuters) - Efforts to tackle AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria began to recover last year after being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, but the world is still not on track to defeat these killer diseases, according to a report.

In its 2022 report, released on Monday, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria said the numbers of people reached with treatment and prevention efforts rebounded last year after declining for the first time in almost 20 years in 2020.

However, all the ground lost has not been regained, said Peter Sands, head of the Fund, a public/private alliance based in Geneva.

"Most countries have done an impressive job of bouncing back from the terrible disruption of 2020 ... but we are not where we want to be. Far too many people are still dying of these diseases," he told Reuters last week.

For example, the numbers treated for tuberculosis fell by 19% in 2020, to 4.5 million. In 2021, this went back up by 12%, to 5.3 million - still just below the 5.5 million on treatment pre-pandemic. While malaria and AIDS programmes did exceed 2019 levels, the pandemic's impact means they are still off-track on the aim of ending the diseases by 2030.

Sands also warned that the impact of the global food crisis, exacerbated by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, would make the situation worse.

Infectious diseases are usually much deadlier for people whose bodies are weakened by malnutrition, and they also do not respond as well to treatment or prevention efforts. As such, Sands said it was "likely" that the Fund would have to work with partners to provide more nutritional support than it ever has before in order to continue to save lives.

The report estimates that the Fund's work with countries has saved around 50 million lives since its inception in 2002. It spent $4.4 billion to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on its key areas, and fight the pandemic, from March 2020 on.

To continue its work, the Global Fund is now aiming to raise $18 billion for its next three-year funding cycle, from governments, civil society and the private sector. It has already raised more than a third of the total and there are plans for a pledging conference next week, hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden.

(This story corrects to clarify data is from 2022 report, covering 2021 data)

(Reporting by Jennifer Rigby; Editing by Alison Williams)