Malaria killing thousands more than Ebola

2014-12-28 17:39
Malaria occurs when a parasite from the species Plasmodium infects a person's red blood cells.  (Shutterstock)

Malaria occurs when a parasite from the species Plasmodium infects a person's red blood cells. (Shutterstock) (Shutterstock)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Gueckedou - West Africa's fight to contain Ebola has hampered the campaign against malaria, a preventable and treatable disease that is claiming many thousands more lives than the dreaded virus.

In Gueckedou, near the village where Ebola first started killing people in Guinea's tropical southern forests a year ago, doctors say they have had to stop pricking fingers to do blood tests for malaria.

Guinea's drop in reported malaria cases this year by as much as 40 % is not good news, said Dr Bernard Nahlen, deputy director of the US President's Malaria Initiative. He said the decrease is likely because people are too scared to go to health facilities and are not getting treated for malaria.

"It would be a major failure on the part of everybody involved to have a lot of people die from malaria in the midst of the Ebola epidemic," he said in a telephone interview. "I would be surprised if there were not an increase in unnecessary malaria deaths in the midst of all this, and a lot of those will be young children."

Figures are always estimates in Guinea, where half the 12 million people have no access to health centres and die uncounted. Some 15 000 Guineans died from malaria last year, 14 000 of them children under five, according to Nets for Life Africa, a New York-based charity dedicated to providing insecticide-treated mosquito nets to put over beds.

In comparison, about 1 600 people in Guinea have died from Ebola, according to statistics from the World Health Organization.

Malaria is the leading cause of death in children under five in Guinea and, after Aids, the leading cause of adult deaths, according to Nets for Life.

Ebola and malaria have many of the same symptoms, including fever, dizziness, head and muscle aches. Malaria is caused by bites from infected mosquitoes while Ebola can be contracted only from the body fluids of an infected victim - hence doctors' fears of drawing blood to do malaria tests.

People suffering malaria fear being quarantined in Ebola treatment centres and health centres not equipped to treat Ebola are turning away patients with Ebola-like symptoms, doctors said.

Burden of malaria

WHO figures from Gueckedou show that of people coming in with fever in October, 24% who tested positive for Ebola also tested positive for malaria, and 33% of those who did not have Ebola tested positive for malaria - an indication of the great burden of malaria in Guinea.

Malaria killed one of 38 Cuban doctors sent to Guinea to help fight the Ebola outbreak. One private hospital had a kidney dialysis machine that could have saved his failing organ but the clinic was shut after several people died there of Ebola.

The US President's Malaria Initiative ground to a halt in Guinea months ago and the WHO in November advised health workers against testing for malaria unless they have protective gear.

The malaria initiative is doing a national survey of health facilities and elsewhere to try to find out "what's actually happening here ... where people with malaria are going," said Nahlen, of the US campaign. There was some positive news in Guinea - it had just completed a national mosquito net campaign against malaria when Ebola struck, he said.

Neighboring Liberia, on the other hand, suspended the planned distribution of 2 million nets, said Nahlen.

In Sierra Leone, the third country hard-hit by Ebola, Doctors Without Borders took unprecedented, pre-emptive action this month, distributing 1.5 million antimalarial drugs that can be used to both prevent and treat, aiming to protect people during the disease's peak season.

"Most people turn up at Ebola treatment centres thinking that they have Ebola, when actually they have malaria," said Patrick Robataille, Doctors Without Borders field co-ordinator in Freetown. "It's a huge load on the system, as well as being a huge stress on patients and their families."

He said a second distribution is planned in Freetown and western areas most affected by Ebola. Robataille said the huge delivery of antimalarial drugs was "in proportion to the scale of the Ebola epidemic - it's massive."

Read more on:    who  |  guinea  |  health  |  west africa  |  ebola  |  malaria

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.