The spread of Ebola in West Africa is exacerbating the effects of malaria in the region, according to the World Health Organization.
An estimated 6.6 million malaria cases and 20,000 deaths from the disease affected Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2013, the WHO said in a report today. This year, as most clinics that aren’t treating Ebola remain closed and people fear contracting Ebola at health facilities, malaria cases aren’t being treated and the situation is worsening significantly, according to Pedro Alonso, head of the WHO’s Global Malaria Program. Ebola has killed about 6,331 in the three countries.
The Ebola outbreak “has served as a wake-up call for governments and the global development community, urging a major global rethink about the importance of strengthening health systems and building resilience,” WHO Director General Margaret Chan said in the report. Greater investment “will make malaria and other public health responses more effective and more sustainable.”
In response to the spread of malaria in the three countries, the WHO and partners have started mass drug administration campaigns. The combination treatment ASAQ has been given to about 300,000 people in Liberia starting about a month ago, and 2 million people will receive the antimalarial in Sierra Leone in a program begun last week, Alonso said. A campaign in Guinea is being planned.
“This is an approach one uses only in emergency situations,” Alonso said in an interview in London. “You go into a population, and you give an effective antimalarial that will hopefully wipe out the parasite.” Local governments, medical charity Doctors Without Borders and the U.K. government have been helping with the campaigns.
The global mortality rate for malaria fell 47 percent from 2000 through 2013, dropping by 54 percent in Africa, the Geneva-based WHO said. The disease killed an estimated 584,000 people worldwide last year, including 453,000 children younger than 5.
Among challenges remaining, one-third of households in areas with malaria transmission in sub-Saharan Africa didn’t have a single insecticide-treated bed net, and resistance to the treatment artemisinin has been detected in five countries in Southeast Asia.
GlaxoSmithKline Plc, the U.K.’s biggest drugmaker, is developing a vaccine for malaria, which may be the first shot against the disease to win regulators’ approval.