Health & Science
These grim projections are not, WHO stresses, a certainty.
While the world is focused on tackling the coronavirus, there are warnings that it should not lose sight of other health threats. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the number of deaths from malaria in sub-Saharan Africa this year could double - and Covid-19 is to blame.
Just as measles and polio vaccine programmes are being postponed for fear any contact could spread the coronavirus, malaria could be another deadly consequence of the crisis. The WHO considered nine different scenarios to determine how malaria treatment could be disrupted. In the worst case - where all insecticide-treated net campaigns are suspended and access to antimalarial medicine falls dramatically - malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa could jump to 769,000. That’s twice the number of deaths reported in the region in 2018. And to put that number into perspective, total malaria deaths worldwide were 405,000 in 2018. Deaths caused by malaria haven’t reached those levels for two decades. And sub-Saharan Africa is most at risk - because that’s where 94 per cent of all malaria deaths were in 2018, more than two-thirds among children under the age of five.
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The campaign against malaria has been a public health success story in recent decades. Malaria deaths have reduced by half since 2000 and considerable resources have been devoted to the fight: 2.7 billion dollars in 2018. But even before this latest threat, concern had been growing that progress had stalled, with cases flat, rather than falling, in recent years. One of the chief culprits is a species of mosquito which is developing resistance to insecticide - while the parasite the mosquito transmits is also starting to resist drug treatment. Health officials are now worried this flat trend could curve sharply upwards.
Seizing the moment
These grim projections are not, WHO stresses, a certainty. Although rising each week, reported Covid-19 cases in sub-Saharan Africa are still small compared to other regions. Even in South Africa, WHO officials see signs that containment measures are proving effective. Experts are now advising leaders in the region to step up mass vector campaigns (insecticide-treated nets and indoor spraying); but do so in such a way that minimises the spread of Covid-19. At this stage of #COVID19, countries in sub-Saharan Africa have a critical window of opportunity to save lives by: Maintaining preventive malaria therapies for young children and pregnant women and accelerating mass vector control campaigns. At the same time, preventative antimalarial treatments for pregnant women and children must be maintained.
Source: World Economic Forum.