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The Parasite and the Virus

July 16, 2020 - 20:15 -- Beverly Anaele

As global attention and funds continue to shift towards addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, the incidence rate of other life-threatening diseases like malaria could begin to surge if left to do so. The World Health Organization (WHO) and associated partners predict that 41 sub-Saharan African countries as a whole could see a doubling in malaria-associated mortalities if COVID-19 causes two things to happen: (1) the abrupt suspension of all bednet distributions; and (2) a 75% drop in the overall ability to obtain prophylaxis.

Malaria continues to take the lives of 1-3 million people every year and, unfortunately, progress to eradicate this disease appears to be slowing. Moreover, low levels of funding have resulted in what the WHO calls “major gaps” in protecting communities through preventative, treatment, and diagnostic tools. If these communities were to be left vulnerable, the outcomes would be devastating.

Thus, maintaining insecticide-treated bednet distributions is imperative to prevent such a drastic death toll. Otherwise, we run the risk of only adding to the growing number of deaths reported in several malaria-endemic countries, such as in those in sub-Saharan Africa, where 94% of all related deaths occurred in 2018.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that all malaria-endemic countries have at least one representative from their National Malaria Control Program also serve on their COVID-19 Incident Management Team. That way, this individual can provide insight as to how proposed actions will affect malaria strategies.

Another area of concern in regards to potential rises in malaria rates is that of medication shortages. With the prophylactic drug hydroxychloroquine no longer touted in the United States as beneficial for preventing or treating the coronavirus, several communities have amassed millions of pills that they can no longer use. Pills that could be saving lives from both lupus and malaria. Ohio’s Department of Health, for instance, was reported to have 4,014,400 pills in its storage as of June 19, 2020—all of which they are seeking to get rid of through a reverse invoice, donations, and reselling. The US is believed to have around 63 million dosages of hydroxychloroquine. Malaria programs around the world in need of more hydroxychloroquine should jump onto opportunities like this to combat potential shortages. To further address this issue, the CDC suggests allowing associated facilities to hold around 1-2 more months of supply chain material than normal.

We must avoid giving any disease the opportunity to make a comeback. Outbreaks of any nature help no one and simply strain global efforts to achieve the SDGs by 2030. We can put a stop to malaria as long as we keep our eyes and ears on its every move.