Coronavirus disruption could lead to tens of thousands of malaria deaths in Africa warns WHO

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By Luke Hurst
The WHO has warned disruption to malaria treatment caused by coronavirus could cause thousands of deaths
The WHO has warned disruption to malaria treatment caused by coronavirus could cause thousands of deaths   -  Copyright  AP Photo

Disruption to malaria treatment caused by the coronavirus pandemic could lead to tens of thousands of malaria deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

In its world malaria report, the organisation says that at 50% reduction in access to treatments could lead to as many as 100,000 extra deaths from a disease that has been eradicated in much of the world in recent decades.

It points out that stunning progress has been made since the year 2000, with 10 countries eliminating the disease in that time, and many more making deep impacts in the number of cases each year.

But the problem remains acute in Africa, with more than 90% of cases occurring in the continent.

“It is time for leaders across Africa – and the world – to rise once again to the challenge of malaria, just as they did when they laid the foundation for the progress made since the beginning of this century,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Through joint action, and a commitment to leaving no one behind, we can achieve our shared vision of a world free of malaria.”

COVID-19 poses challenge

The WHO has warned the emergence of coronavirus has added an additional challenge to the provision of essential health services across the world - with malaria treatments potentially one of the big victims.

It says it is concerned even moderate disruptions in access could result in considerable loss of life.

For example, the report found a 10% disruption in access in sub-Saharan Africa could lead to 19,000 more deaths.

Disruptions of 25% and 50% in the region could result in an additional 46,000 and 100,000 deaths, respectively, it adds.

And the pandemic has had some effect on malaria treatment, since it began earlier this year.

The WHO says restrictions put in place, as well as early messaging telling people to stay home to avoid catching and spreading COVID-19, has potentially stopped people from seeking treatment for diseases such as malaria.

There were also plans to implement prevention campaigns in many countries suffering from malaria cases before the peak malaria transmission season, which it said was likely to coincide with the peak of the first wave of COVID-19.

Two decades of progress

Overall, the wider picture has been one of mass eradication of the disease in much of the world.

Europe remains malaria-free, and has been since 2015.

The report states that between 2000 and 2019, ten countries have eliminated malaria: United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan, Paraguay, Argentina and Algeria.

A number of countries have also made major dents in their malaria cases, with Cambodia, China (Yunnan Province), Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam seeing reported cases fall by 90% from 2000 to 2019.

But the report warns that progress that has accelerated and saved millions of lives has leveled off in recent years, with some countries that suffer from high rates of infection continuing to be heavily impacted.