Climate crisis & conflict accelerating planet-wide pandemic problems

Climate change and conflict are hitting efforts to tackle three of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases, the head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has warned.

International initiatives to fight the diseases have largely recovered after being badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Fund’s recently released 2023 results report.

But the increasing challenges of climate change and conflict mean the world is likely to miss the target of putting an end to AIDS, TB and malaria by 2030 without “extraordinary steps”, said Peter Sands, executive director of the Global Fund.

For example, malaria is spreading to highland parts of Africa that were previously too cold for the mosquito carrying the disease-causing parasite.

Tuberculosis (TB) remains one of the deadliest infectious diseases in the world, killing over 1.5 million people every year. 

Even more devastating is that TB is preventable, treatable and curable – but too often people most at risk can’t access the tools and resources that exist to protect themselves or get timely treatment.  

From the newest diagnostic technology to innovative treatments for adults and children, there is an incredible arsenal of resources that exist in the fight against TB.  

Currently, around the world, a child dies from an AIDS-related cause every 5 minutes. And despite the availability of highly effective treatments that prevent pregnant mothers from transmitting HIV to their babies, UNAIDS estimates that 160,000 children were born HIV-positive in 2021 alone. 

Only half (52%) of children living with HIV are on lifesaving treatment, far behind adults, of whom three-quarters (76%) are receiving antiretrovirals. And even when children do have access to these medications, many are still receiving older, sub-optimal drugs.

Strong health systems are vital to ending AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria, responding to emergencies that fuel disease and preparing for future health threats. 

Climate change is already having an impact on the epidemiology of infectious diseases.

For example, malaria is spreading to highland parts of Africa that were previously too cold for the Anopheles mosquito that carries the parasite. Cyclones, floods and other climate-related extreme events are causing dramatic upsurges in malaria infections, such as in Malawi and Pakistan.

Food insecurity and water scarcity are displacing entire communities, increasing their vulnerability to diseases like TB. The Global Fund has stepped up in the aftermath of extreme weather events to mitigate their impact on malaria programs and ensure the continuity of HIV and TB services.  

Conflicts damage health infrastructure and overwhelm already overstretched health services, so people who become ill with disease are unable to access treatment, supply chains break down, and prevention interventions are interrupted.

Across multiple countries, including Sudan, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Myanmar, the Global Fund partnership has to overcome immense challenges in striving to ensure the most vulnerable get the services they need.

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