Malaria deaths in Africa set to spike, WHO warns
New projections suggest fatalities from disease could double this year
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA—One of the hard lessons the World Health Organization learned during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was this: other diseases can be forgotten and take a deadlier toll.
The WHO is now warning that the battle against malaria in sub-Saharan Africa, where it already kills hundreds of thousands of people a year, could be set back by 20 years as countries focus energy and resources on containing the coronavirus. The WHO said new projections indicate that in a worstcase scenario, 769,000 people could die of malaria in subSaharan Africa this year as campaigns to combat it are interrupted.
That’s more than double the deaths in the last detailed count two years ago, when more than 360,000 people died, and would be the worst figures for the region since 2000.
“We must not turn back the clock,” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said Thursday.
While health experts express fears that the coronavirus pandemic could erode the global fight against many diseases, sub-Saharan Africa is by far the worst affected by malaria. It had 93 per cent of the world’s cases and 94 per cent of deaths in 2018, the WHO said. The deaths were mainly children under the age of five.
There have already been “severe disruptions” to anti-malaria campaigns and access to anti-malaria medication in Africa, WHO said.
The warning came ahead of World Malaria Day on Saturday. Malaria remains one of the leading killers in low-income countries. “I urge all countries to not lose focus on their gains made in health as they adapt to tackle this new threat,” Moeti said. “We saw with the Ebola virus disease outbreak in West Africa that we lost more people to malaria, for instance, than we lost to the Ebola outbreak. Let us not repeat that with COVID-19.”
Malaria isn’t the only concern. Immunization campaigns to protect children against measles, polio and yellow fever are also affected, and not just in Africa.
The World Health Organization said the battle against malaria in sub-Saharan Africa could be set back by 20 years as countries focus their resources on containing the coronavirus.