Malaria may still be the biggest killer in Africa

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By Bongani Siziba

Months into the coronavirus outbreak, many might have largely been spared of its worst effects. But the pandemic may well cause hundreds of thousands to die this year, not from COVID-19, but from malaria in Africa.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned earlier this year that disruptions to malaria prevention and treatment caused by the coronavirus could see malaria deaths double. The increase alone estimated at the worst case to be 369,000 would almost equal the current confirmed death toll of COVID-19. With peak malaria season rapidly approaching in major malaria-endemic countries, the window of time in which to avoid disaster is rapidly closing.

Malaria outbreaks provide worrying precedent. The 2014 outbreak in West Africa wreaked havoc on health systems, affecting not only those suffering from Malaria but also those suffering from diseases as Ebola, HIV, and tuberculosis. In the most recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the most affected province experienced an eightfold increase in malaria incidence.

According to Professor Mbogo Chief research scientist at Kenya Research institute centre, lack of funding for malaria control in Africa is a biggest challenge in fighting the disease

“ We have a weak survillience system where we cannot be able to know or predict where malaria is going to increase or where there will be an epidemic” said Professor Mbongo.

Due to lockdowns and overstretched government resources, distributing the bed nets has become a more difficult task. While countries such as Benin and Sierra Leone have been able to go forward with their bed net distribution campaigns, others including Nigeria, Congo and many others have yet to do so.

Although the window of time before peak malaria season is rapidly closing. Additional preventive measures, including seasonal chemoprevention and indoor residual spraying, have also been disrupted.  According to WHO, over 90 percent of malaria cases and deaths take place in sub-Saharan Africa. Children under 5 represent two-thirds of all malaria deaths, with pregnant women are particularly vulnerable.

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