Seattle — Countries are being urged to quickly supply and ensure safe delivery of vital malaria prevention and control interventions could save as many as 400,000 lives this year. Without these, the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to a surge in malaria cases and a doubling of malaria deaths this year.
According to the 2019 World Malaria Report, the world’s malaria burden remained at all-time lows, with approximately 400,000 malaria deaths and 228 million malaria cases, and an increasing number of countries, 49, were moving toward malaria elimination. In 2018, global investments saved almost 600,000 lives and prevented nearly 100 million malaria cases compared to 2000 levels.
However, a new modeling analysis conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in close collaboration with partners, including PATH, the Malaria Atlas Project and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, highlights that the challenges malaria-affected countries are facing due to COVID-19 could severely disrupt anti-malaria campaigns and routine health services with devastating humanitarian consequences. In 2018, children under five accounted for 67% of malaria deaths worldwide and one in three pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa were infected with malaria.
“High-burden countries in West Africa and India face a dangerous double jeopardy with peak transmission of malaria and COVID-19 over the next few months. We have a critical window to support them taking actions that will save hundreds of thousands of lives and prevent health systems from being overwhelmed with tens of millions of additional malaria cases,” said Martin Edlund, CEO of Malaria No More. “The Ebola outbreak taught us that the best defense is a good offense. Both malaria and COVID-19 present as fevers, making it critical to safely expand current frontline health worker efforts. By preventing, screening, diagnosing and treating malaria symptoms at the local level, countries can avert a devastating surge in severe-malaria cases at district and national hospitals.”
COVID-19 threatens to disrupt insecticide-treated net (ITN) and other effective vector control and preventive therapies and to limit access to essential health services that ensure early diagnosis and treatment of malaria. Disruptions of integrated case management at the community level and limited access to proven malaria interventions puts the most vulnerable – children under five and pregnant women – at greater risk, creating the conditions for an increase in severe and even deadly malaria cases if left untreated by an overwhelmed health system. Conversely, a spike in malaria cases requiring treatment at hospitals would make it impossible for many countries to mount an effective COVID-19 response.
Following new WHO technical guidelines, malaria-affected countries can safely take action before the rainy season, which begins in June for many. The highest priority is providing frontline health workers with the training and personal protective equipment they need to safely continue essential malaria services during the pandemic. Also critical is continuing to strengthen coordination among countries and implementing partners to source medical supplies and mitigate the impact that COVID-19 is having on the supply chains for life-saving malaria drugs and tools.
Several countries have already heeded the call to continue their planned malaria programs while taking precautionary measures against COVID-19, including Benin, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger, Sierra Leone and Chad, which are going ahead with their mass distribution campaigns of ITNs.
U.S. investments lead the way
As the largest contributor to the global fight to end malaria, U.S. investments are having impact year over year, protecting more than half a billion people at risk of malaria. Through the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, these investments have a multiplier effect on health and economic resiliency at an individual and country-level.
“For the past 15 years, U.S. investments have played a huge role in accelerating progress against malaria, putting the world on a path to ending it within a generation,” said Josh Blumenfeld, Managing Director, Global Policy and Advocacy at Malaria No More. “This wouldn’t have been possible without bipartisan Congressional leadership that, year after year, has recognized the importance of investing in health security and eliminating infectious diseases like malaria. COVID-19 is proof that these investments are more important than ever to build robust, resilient health and surveillance systems to prevent existing diseases like malaria, alongside emerging ones.”
PMI, which will release its forthcoming annual report ahead of World Malaria Day, and the Global Fund invest more than $1 billion per year strengthening countries’ health infrastructures. This includes training frontline health workers, improving supply chains, strengthening in-country lab capacity, building real-time data systems to improve surveillance of infectious disease, and promoting the delivery of integrated health services. All of these efforts help countries fight and contain malaria and other diseases such as Ebola, and now COVID-19.
Malaria No More envisions a world where no one dies from a mosquito bite...mobilizing the political commitment, funding, and innovation required to achieve what would be one of the greatest humanitarian accomplishments – ending malaria within our generation.