How can countries continue to fight Malaria during a pandemic?

As medical interruptions due to COVID-19 are likely to kill more people in Africa than the disease itself, two countries offer interesting lessons.

With COVID-19 cases in Africa reach 1,904,820 with more than 45,954 deaths, the dangers posed by the pandemic are clear. At the same time, it is important to recognize the increased risks posed by one of the continent’s deadliest diseases.

Malaria causes nearly half a million deaths worldwide each year, with about 90% of cases in sub-Saharan Africa. However, due to interruptions in the delivery of mosquito nets and medicines against malaria, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that deaths due to malaria in sub-Saharan Africa could be possible. double. In fact, it is possible that interruptions due to COVID-19 will result in more deaths of malaria, TB and HIV as the coronavirus itself.

What should countries where malaria is endemic do to prevent this scenario? Ghana and Sierra Leone offers interesting case studies. These two West African countries are among fifteen African countries that have started implementing them since 2019 Zero Malaria starts with me campaigns. This movement was started by the non-profit Speak up Africa and PATH in collaboration with Senegal’s National Malaria Control Program and is now being co – led by the African Union and RBM Partnership to End Malaria.

Shift focus in Sierra Leone

The situation of Sierra Leone is relatively unique because it was one of the three countries in West Africa plagued by the Ebola outbreak in 2014-2016. This experience gave him lessons on how to curb the spread of infectious diseases, but it may also have meant that citizens were terrified when COVID-19 struck. According to James Wallen, Malaria Program Officer at Speak up Africa: “We have heard of mothers who are afraid to take their young children to health centers if they have a fever for fear of catching COVID-19, which could possibly lead to untreated malaria. late. “

This is of concern as children are more at risk than the coronavirus. 70% of malaria deaths are from children under five. It is also worrying that the wider population is avoiding seeking medical help for malaria due to the fear of catching COVID-19. In Sierra Leone, more than a term of the population is infected with malaria at any given time and 4 out of 10 hospital consultations are for the often fatal disease.

In light of this concern, Sierra Leone has spread 4.6 million bed nets nationwide in May and June despite the pandemic. They changed their strategy to ensure social distance and provided health workers with personal protective equipment (PPE). When exclusionary measures made it difficult to conduct physical events, the campaign also shifted its focus to mass communication to reinforce key messages on different platforms for different audiences. It included a call-to-action video, a television animation and a song featuring twelve well-known musicians that now exists make waves.

Thanks to the efforts of champion journalists, coverage of malaria in the traditional news media has seen a sevenfold increase in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. Furthermore, a recent series of District Leadership Forums has mobilized a wide range of key stakeholders to promote education and action at community level.

Achieved champion in Ghana

Ghana continued its anti-malaria efforts with similar zeal. The country has seen an incredible 88% drop in the number of confirmed deaths from malaria over the past seven years – from 2,799 in 2012 to 333 in 2019 – and fighters are eager for this trend to continue.

Their strategy this year was mainly focused on the national level and benefited from various prominent supporters. Figures such as first lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo raised the issue. Meanwhile, journalists, editors and others in the media have signed statements to keep malaria in the public eye and established the Malaria Media Coalition.

As part of Zero Malaria Starts With Me, Ghana has also set up a national malaria advocacy committee. This multisectoral body consists of experts and leaders of government, civil society, the private sector, financial and technical partners and academia. It is hoped that this group will help increase efforts to promote and mobilize resources, especially with regard to private sector involvement and the development of political will.

Keep up the momentum

In recent decades, great progress has been made in the global fight against HIV / Aids, tuberculosis and malaria. In the case of malaria, efforts since 2000 may have saved possibly 600,0000 lives and prevented 100 million malaria cases each year.

Across the continent, African countries have made tremendous progress, and it is critical that we do not lose this momentum in the midst of the pandemic. Sierra Leone and Ghana offer some lessons that other countries can look at to pursue their own strategies.

Ciku Kimeria is a communications consultant at Speak up Africa, a policy system and advocacy action tank that focuses on sanitation, malaria, neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and immunization, among others.


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