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Malaria deaths could double during Covid-19 pandemic, warns WHO

Malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa could double if healthcare on the continent is disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, warned the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti. In the worst case scenario, deaths from malaria could double to 769 000.

“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 in a press briefing on Thursday. She urged all countries to maintain malaria interventions in line with the WHO’s recommendations to ensure that health workers and communities are protected. 

In 2018, there were 213-million malaria cases and 360 000 related deaths in the Africa region, accounting for more than 90% of the global malaria burden.

Moeti made reference to the 2013 to 2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, where more people died of preventable diseases such as malaria than the outbreak itself. She warned that such mistakes should not be repeated in the response to Covid-19. 

Moeti also cautioned against any interruption to national immunisation campaigns. “Despite progress in immunisation, still one in four African children are under-immunised. To protect communities from diseases like measles, polio and yellow fever, it’s imperative that routine immunisation continues.” 

She said immunisation campaigns may need to be postponed because of physical distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but encouraged countries to rapidly and safely scale up these activities once the Covid-19 transmission is contained. 

Moeti noted that the WHO was concerned about a sharp rise in malaria cases in some West African countries and Tanzania, and called on all African leaders to follow the data; to let evidence drive their policy decisions; and to work with partners who are willing to support measures to mitigate the effect of public health restrictions.

Abdul Brima is a media fellow with Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung

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