Ending the Permanent Respiratory Disease Pandemic

The Covid-19 has highlighted the limited capacity of health networks around the planet to deal with a respiratory infection pandemic. With the official count of deaths due to Covid-19, currently above five million, and the unofficial count estimated at more than five times higher, everyone has seen the difficulties experienced by everyone’s health networks. the countries.

It was difficult to understand how the world could have been so taken aback by the Covid-19. Respiratory disease has long been the leading infectious cause of death worldwide. Before the pandemic, about 2.5 million adults and children died from pneumonia each year – no other infection causes so much death.

Deaths caused by pneumonia occur in all regions. In high-income countries, deaths are concentrated among the oldest, while in low-income countries, children are the main victims. While in most middle-income countries, deaths are recorded in these two population groups.

In light of these data, respiratory infections have proven to be the major “missing piece” of the global health agenda. Before Covid-19, there was never a global health campaign focused on reducing deaths from pneumonia, nor was a global health agency responsible for assisting countries concerned with preventing, diagnosing and treat pneumonia.

Even GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, whose mandate is to immunize the world’s most vulnerable children, has not been able to protect more than half of them with the weapon. more effective against pneumonia – the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (VAC). This leaves many children – over 350 million under the age of five – dangerously exposed. Awareness of two episodes of respiratory infection epidemics – severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV) in 2002 and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV) in 2014 – has not, it also, was enough to persuade national authorities and global health organizations to prioritize the fight against pneumonia.

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As a result, health networks on all continents were unprepared when SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, arose and it quickly became a pandemic. National health authorities did not have the means to cope with the surge of patients in need of rapid diagnosis or to seek treatment, in particular to ensure the phenomenal amounts of medical oxygen for patients with Covid-19.

Tragic accounts of deaths resulting from lack of access to health care were collected in Latin America in early summer 2020 and quickly spread to Asia, the Middle East and Africa. It is impossible to forget the suffering of patients struggling to breathe or the distress of family members and healthcare professionals desperate for oxygen.

We don’t know how many deaths caused by Covid-19 are the result of lack of diagnosis and treatment, but most of the countries with the highest death rates from the pandemic have recorded low testing rates and shortages. oxygen. Today, after more than 18 months of the pandemic and despite effective vaccine delivery campaigns, states are still struggling to reduce the death toll. Of the 50,000 deaths caused by Covid-19 that are still recorded every week, 70% take place in low- and middle-income countries.

It is an unacceptable situation. The Covid-19 pandemic must become a turning point everywhere in the fight against pneumonia. Countries should never have to suffer so many deaths again from a respiratory infection pandemic. And so many deaths should not be caused by pneumonia unrelated to Covid, year after year.

But that’s what will happen, unless national authorities transform their response plans to respond with proactive pneumonia control strategies. Putting in place an effective and permanent method of responding to pneumonia would reduce deaths from respiratory illnesses caused by all kinds of infections and lower the risk of another pandemic of respiratory infection.

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Achieving this goal will require complete vaccination coverage against pneumonia, better diagnostic tools available to all links in the health networks and better access to treatment. Action will also be needed to reduce the main risk factors, including air pollution, childhood wasting and smoking.

Global health and development agencies like the Global Fund, the World Bank, Unitaid, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund, should convert the Covid-19 aid they have provided to low- and middle-income countries in long-term pneumonia control programs. The Emergency Oxygen Study Group of the Device to Accelerate Access to Tools to Combat Covid-19 (ACT-A) alone provided funding of more than $ 600 million in funding. oxygen to countries in need and should be funded by the G20 to do even more. And private philanthropic organizations must continue to support NGO initiatives to strengthen respiratory care services.

Without this continued support, the world will remain exposed to the possibility of another pandemic caused by respiratory infection. And there is a great risk of not meeting the sustainable development goals in health, especially the reduction of maternal, newborn and child mortality and the reduction of the burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases.

Despite the fact that Covid-19 has exposed some of the critical flaws in the global health architecture, it has also highlighted what national authorities, global health and development agencies, and donors can accomplish when ‘they are urged to invest in the fight against respiratory infections. And there is still a long way to go.

After all, our world is changing in such a way that it accelerates the risk of another pandemic of respiratory infection. Airborne infections from breathing, talking, laughing and singing will proliferate in a hotter, highly urban and mobile environment where poor diets, chronic disease and longer life expectancy make people more vulnerable to diseases. The cost of not investing in the resources to fight pneumonia will run into millions of lives lost each year and millions more each time a new pandemic strikes.

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* Leith Greenslade is the coordinator of “Every Breath Counts,” a coalition of more than 50 organizations helping states reduce deaths from pneumonia.

© Project Syndicate, 2021. Translated from English by Pierre Castegnier.

The Covid-19 has highlighted the limited capacity of health networks around the planet to deal with a respiratory infection pandemic. With the official count of deaths from Covid-19, currently above five million, and the unofficial count estimated at more than five times higher, everyone has seen the difficulties experienced by the networks …

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