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WHO warns Malaria Risk in Africa amid COVID-19 Pandemic

WHO urges countries to move quickly as the top health organization warns malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa could double to 769,000. 

More and more people in Africa are dying, not because of COVID-19, but because of Malaria. The life-threatening disease caused by parasites is hitting the sub-Sahara African as the world concentrates on the new coronavirus disease – COVID-19.

Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites. The parasites are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes called the “malaria vectors”.There are 5 parasite species that cause malaria. Two (2) of these parasites are said to bring the greatest threat – the P. falciparum and P. vivax.

P. falciparum is a unicellular protozoan parasite and is said to be the deadliest species that causes malaria in humans. P. vivax, on the other hand, is a protozoan parasite that causes recurring malaria.

In 2018, WHO accounted for 99.7% of malaria cases in the African Region, 50% cases in the South-East Asia Region, 71% cases in the Eastern Mediterranean and 65% in the Western Pacific. An estimated 228 million cases of malaria were recorded across the globe including the 405,000 fatalities in 2018.

Malaria is an acute febrile illness. Its symptoms usually appear 10-15 days after the infective bite. The first symptoms include fever, headache, and chills. If the symptoms are not treated within 24 hours, the P. falciparum malaria can progress to severe illness and may lead to death.

Infants, children under 5 years of age, pregnant women and patients with HIV/AIDS, as well as non-immune migrants are the most vulnerable in contracting the disease.

Children with severe malaria frequently develop one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Severe anemia
  • Respiratory distress in relation to metabolic acidosis
  • Or cerebral malaria

Amid the battle against the COVID-19, WHO urges countries to move quickly as the top health organization warns malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa could double to 769,000. 

At a media briefing, Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa urged all countries to ensure that the essential malaria prevention work continues. “A recent analysis has found that if insecticide-treated bed net distribution stops, and case management reduces, malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa could double in comparison to 2018,” said Moeti.

According to WHO, if the focus on slowing the spread of the new coronavirus leads to a 75 percent reduction in access to antimalarial medicines, deaths could double to 769,000.

“Countries across the region have a critical window of opportunity to minimize disruptions in malaria prevention and treatment and save lives at this stage of the COVID-19 outbreak,” WHO stated.