Tuesday, May 12, 2020

COVID-19 or Malaria?

Experts across Africa are warning that as hospitals and health facilities focus on COVID-19, less attention is being given to the management of other deadly diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, which affect millions more people. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that four times as many people could die from malaria than coronavirus.

“Today if you have malaria symptoms you are in big trouble because they are quite close to COVID-19 symptoms, will you go to the hospital when it is said we should not go there?” Yap Boum II, the regional representative for Epicenter Africa, the research arm of Doctors Without Borders, told IPS.

“Hospitals are struggling because they do not have the good facilities and equipment; it will be hard to take in a patient with malaria because people are scared. As a result the management of malaria is affected by COVID-19,” Boum, who is also a Professor of Microbiology at Mbarara University of Sciences and Technology in Uganda, said, pointing out that HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis were also being ignored.
  • In 2001 African governments drew up the Abuja Declaration to invest 15 percent of the national budgets in improving health care services.
  • For every $100 that goes into an African nation’s state coffers, on average $16 was allocated to health. Of this amount  only $10 was spent, with less than $4 going to the right health services.
“For the first time in our lifetime, the human being and the world is realising that the most important thing we have is our health,” said Boum, questioning why African governments have all not prioritised health spending despite the Abuja Declaration.
“With our borders closed we are all being taken care of in the poor health system that we have built,” Boum, told IPS. “There is no more flying to India, London or the United States. We are all in the same boat because we have not invested what we were supposed to invest and I hope beyond the pandemic, we will make health care a just cause and even manage to go beyond the 15 percent health investment agreed upon.”

“With COVID-19 spreading, we are worried about its impacts on health systems in Africa and that this may impact negatively on the delivery of routine services, which include malaria control. The bans on movement will affect the health workers getting to health facilities and their safety from exposure,” Akpaka Kalu, team leader of the Tropical and Vector-borne Disease Programme at the WHO Regional Office for Africa, told IPS. “We do not want a situation where we are protecting people from COVID-19 and they die of malaria and other diseases,” Kalu told IPS.
Kalu stressed that domestic financing for malaria was needed. He commended the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and other private sector partnerships that have provided funds for malaria. But he pointed out that this was neither ideal nor sustainable unless national governments contributed a lion’s share to malaria control.
  • There is a $2 billion annual funding gap when it comes to malaria prevention, which should be closed to sufficiently protect people in malaria affected countries, according to the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, a global private sector initiative established in 1998. The partnership has sourced funding and equipment for malaria prone countries, providing mosquito nets, rapid diagnostic tests and antimalarials.

Mamadou Coulibaly, head of the Malaria Research and Training Center at the University of Bamako, Mali, concurred that the pandemic was straining health systems in developing countries. He urged malaria-endemic countries not to disrupt prevention and treatment programmes.

“To avoid this catastrophic scenario, countries must tailor their interventions to this challenging time, guaranteeing prompt diagnostic testing, treatment, access and use of insecticide-treated nets,” Coulibaly, who is also the principal investigator of Target Malaria in Mali, told IPS. 

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