Ebola threatens fight against malaria

2014-12-09 06:51

Aid organisations in West Africa are fighting to keep malaria at bay following the collapse of health services under the burden of the Ebola outbreak, the World Health Organisation said today.

“The Ebola outbreak has had a devastating impact on basic health service delivery in the most severely affected countries, including the ability to control malaria,” WHO director-general Margaret Chan said.

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the countries hardest hit by Ebola, have recorded about 6 200 deaths from the virus since the outbreak began in March.

Last year, malaria killed 20 000 – more than triple the Ebola number – in these same countries, the Geneva-based UN health agency said in its annual World Malaria Report.

“Malaria is the number one killer in Sierra Leone, but patients who may be infected do not seek care for fear of being shunned from health centres as suspected Ebola cases,” Roeland Monasch, the country representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund, said last week.

According to the WHO, most inpatient facilities for malaria patients in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are closed, and patient traffic has dwindled at outpatient facilities.

Malaria is caused by parasites that are transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitoes, and its early symptoms similar to those of Ebola, including fever and headache.

In addition to mosquito net deliveries, the WHO said it is advocating the mass-administration of anti-malaria drugs in areas where both diseases are rampant.

Despite the setbacks in West Africa, the WHO stressed that the fight against malaria has been very successful. Since the turn of the century, the mortality rate for the disease has fallen 47% worldwide and by 54% in Africa, where the majority of cases occur.

This drop in deaths was achieved by increasing the availability of mosquito nets, indoor insecticide spraying and diagnostic testing.

Despite these measures, an estimated 584 000 people worldwide died last year from the disease.

The WHO report warned that not enough women and children are getting access to medication, and that the single-cell parasites that cause malaria have increasingly become resistant to standard treatments, especially in southeast Asia.

To eliminate malaria, annual funding for preventing should be nearly doubled from last year’s $2.7 billion (about R31 billion) to $5.1 billion, the WHO said.

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