Malaria Deaths in Africa Could Double Due to Covid-19, WHO Warns

Malaria Deaths in Africa Could Double Due To Covid-19, WHO Warns

  • As Ned Nwoko urges sustenance of battle against malaria pandemic


The World Health Organisation (WHO) has cautioned that the number of deaths caused by malaria in sub-Saharan Africa might double to 769,000, as efforts to tackle the disease face disruptions by the coronavirus pandemic.

The WHO briefing coincided with the statement of the initiator of ‘Malaria Eradication in Africa’ project, Prince [Dr] Ned Nwoko advising African governments, multilateral agencies, NGOs and individuals on the dangers of relegating the battle to eliminate malaria from the continent as a result of increasing attention being given to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of Thursday, the region had registered more than 26,000 cases of COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. Some 7,000 people have so far recovered, while almost 1,250 have died.

At a media briefing, WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti urged all countries to ensure that essential malaria prevention work continues during the coronavirus pandemic.

“A recent analysis has found that if insecticide-treated bed net distribution stops, and case management reduces, malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa could double in comparison to 2018,” Moeti said on Thursday.

“This would be the highest number of deaths seen in the region since the year 2000.”

The WHO said that if the focus on slowing the spread of the new coronavirus leads to a 75 percent reduction in access to anti-malaria medicines, deaths could double to 769,000. Such a scenario would have devastating consequences for young children, with those under five making up more than two-thirds of all malaria deaths in 2018.

Malaria is a life-threatening mosquito-borne disease that often causes fever, chills and flu-like symptoms. It is a treatable disease if it is caught early, but current antimalarial drugs are failing in many areas due to increasing drug resistance.

In 2018, there were 213 million malaria cases and 360,000 related deaths in the African region, accounting for more than 90 percent of cases worldwide.

The global health agency called on countries in sub-Saharan Africa – where nearly 95 percent of all the world’s malaria cases and deaths occur – to distribute malaria prevention and treatment tools now, before they become overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases.

“Countries across the region have a critical window of opportunity to minimise disruptions in malaria prevention and treatment and save lives at this stage of the COVID-19 outbreak,” the WHO said in a statement.

The doubling of the number of deaths represents the worst-case scenario, which also assumes the suspension of all distribution of treated mosquito nets due to the pandemic, the global health agency added.

Moeti cited figures from Africa’s Ebola outbreak showing that more people died of other diseases, including malaria, than from Ebola itself, due to lack of access to treatment.

“Let us not repeat that again with COVID-19,” she said.

In a separate statement on Thursday, the WHO also repeated a call to maintain immunization services worldwide to ensure the measures taken to halt the pandemic do not end up sparking a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and polio.

“While the world strives to develop a new vaccine for COVID-19 at record speed, we must not risk losing the fight to protect everyone, everywhere against vaccine-preventable diseases,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the statement.

“These diseases will come roaring back if we do not vaccinate.”

So far, the total number of deaths arising from COVID-19 in Africa is less than 2,000 in two and half months. This means that annual mortality figure will likely be less than 20,000 compared with malaria that presently kills about 400,000 people annually in Africa with the figure projected to double this year due to shift of emphasis to COVID-19 containment.

In his statement which came ahead of the commemoration of the World Malaria Day tomorrow, Dr. Ned Nwoko while commending all stakeholders over the efforts to contain the COVID-19 problem, regretted that ‘it is often forgotten by many that malaria is the biggest killer disease in Africa. Even in the face of COVID-19 challenge, we will not relent in our doggedness to sustain the onslaught against malaria. We will continue to push from diverse frontiers.

‘We are ready to collaborate with governments, private organizations and civil society towards achieving our core objective of extending malaria intervention programmes beyond the threshold of control and palliatives. We have our eyes fixed on permanent solution to the age-long scourge.’

He stated that the Prince Ned Nwoko Foundation is of the firm conviction that Africa must permanently overcome the recurring yearly tragedy of hundreds of thousands of avoidable health complications and deaths as a result of malaria attacks.


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