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Africa Can’t Afford COVID-19 Tradeoffs

Saving lives from COVID-19 in Africa will mean little if it also means allowing the number of lives lost to HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria to rise. Even as policymakers and civil-society leaders work to stop a new killer disease, they must resolve to sustain progress toward eliminating those we already know.

GENEVA – As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa surpasses 500,000, the new coronavirus is at the forefront of the public consciousness. But the continent was beset by infectious disease long before the current pandemic began. And, as long as governments and donors remain preoccupied with curbing COVID-19, killers like HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis (TB) will only grow stronger.

Of 38 million people worldwide living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, 25.6 million reside in Sub-Saharan Africa. Africa accounted for 380,000 malaria deaths – 94% of the global total – in 2018. And, 2.6 million people in Africa develop TB every year, resulting in 630,000 deaths.

Over the last two decades, considerable progress has been made in fighting these diseases. AIDS-related deaths have been reduced by more than half since 2004, thanks largely to the availability of antiretroviral therapy. The TB mortality rate fell by 42% between 2000 and 2017. And malaria deaths decreased by 60% between 2000 and 2015; a child who contracts malaria today has a better chance of survival than ever before.