Edmonton Journal

Battle to stop Ebola hits malaria campaign

- MICHELLE FAUL The Associated Press

GUECKEDOU, GUINEA — West Africa’s fight to contain Ebola has hampered the campaign against malaria, a preventabl­e and treatable disease that is claiming many thousands more lives than the dreaded virus.

In Gueckedou, near the village where Ebola first started killing people in Guinea’s tropical southern forests a year ago, doctors say they have had to stop pricking fingers to do blood tests for malaria.

There has been a drop of up to 40 per cent in reported malaria cases in Guinea this year, but that isn’t good news, said Dr. Bernard Nahlen, deputy director of the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative. He said the decrease is likely because people are too scared to go to health facilities and are not getting treated for malaria.

“It would be a major failure on the part of everybody involved to have a lot of people die from malaria in the midst of the Ebola epidemic,” he said. “I would be surprised if there were not an increase in unnecessar­y malaria deaths in the midst of all this, and a lot of those will be young children.”

Figures are always estimates in Guinea, where half the 12 million people have no access to health centres. About 15,000 Guineans died from malaria last year, 14,000 of them children under five, according to Nets for Life Africa, a New York-based charity dedicated to providing insecticid­e-treated mosquito nets to put over beds. In comparison, about 1,600 people in Guinea have died from Ebola, according to statistics from the World Health Organizati­on.

Ebola and malaria have many of the same symptoms, including fever, dizziness, head and muscle aches. Malaria is caused by bites from infected mosquitoes while Ebola can be contracted only from the body fluids of an infected victim — hence doctors’ fears of drawing blood to do malaria tests.

People suffering malaria are afraid of being quarantine­d in Ebola treatment centres, while health centres not equipped to treat Ebola are turning away patients with Ebolalike symptoms, doctors said.

WHO figures from Gueckedou show that of people coming in with fever in October, 24 per cent who tested positive for Ebola also tested positive for malaria, and 33 per cent of those who did not have Ebola tested positive for malaria.

Malaria killed one of 38 Cuban doctors sent to Guinea to help fight the Ebola outbreak. One private hospital had a kidney dialysis machine that could have saved his failing organ but the clinic was shut after several people died there of Ebola.

The U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative ground to a halt in Guinea months ago and the WHO in November advised health workers against testing for malaria unless they have protective gear. Nets for Life says malaria is the leading cause of death in children under five in Guinea and, after AIDS, the leading cause of adult deaths.

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