The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday called for swift action by governments to save lives from malaria in sub-Saharan Africa.
The UN health agency urged countries to move fast and distribute malaria prevention and treatment tools amid COVID-19 outbreak in sub-Saharan Africa, and strive to safely maintain these essential malaria control services.
“Severe disruptions to insecticide-treated net campaigns and in access to antimalarial medicines could lead to a doubling in the number of malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa this year compared to 2018,” WHO said in a new modeling analysis released ahead of World Malaria Day to be marked on Saturday.
According to the World Malaria Report 2019, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for approximately 93 percent of all malaria cases and 94 percent of deaths in 2018. More than two-thirds of deaths were among children under the age of five.
According to the WHO, the number of reported cases of COVID-19 in sub-Saharan Africa to date has represented only a small proportion of the global total, though cases are increasing every week.
“This means that countries across the region have a critical window of opportunity to minimize disruptions in malaria prevention and treatment and save lives at this stage of the COVID-19 outbreak,” said WHO.
The analysis considers nine scenarios for potential disruptions in access to core malaria control tools during the pandemic in 41 countries, and the resulting increases that may be seen in cases and deaths.
“Under the worst-case scenario, in which all insecticide-treated net (ITN) campaigns are suspended and there is a 75 percent reduction in access to effective antimalarial medicines, the estimated tally of malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa in 2020 would reach 769,000, twice the number of deaths reported in the region in 2018,” WHO said.
This, WHO said, would represent a return to malaria mortality levels last seen 20 years ago.
It said mass vector control campaigns should be accelerated, ensuring protection for both health workers and communities against COVID-19 transmission.
According to the WHO, preventive therapies for pregnant women and children must be maintained, adding that the provision of prompt diagnostic testing and effective antimalarial medicines are also essential to prevent a mild case of malaria from progressing to severe illness and death.
WHO and partners have developed guidance to ensure that those suffering from malaria can safely receive the care they need within the package of essential health services to be delivered in COVID-19 settings. Enditem