Malaria deaths prime COVID-19 in sub-Saharan Africa

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Malaria deaths from disruption to mosquito-borne disease control services during the coronavirus pandemic will far exceed those killed by COVID-19 in sub-Saharan Africa, the World Health Organization warned on Monday.

Globally, more than 409,000 people – most of them babies in the poorest parts of Africa – were killed by malaria last year, the WHO said in its latest global malaria report, and COVID-19 will almost certainly increase that number in 2020.

“According to our estimates, depending on the degree of operational disruption (due to COVID-19), there can be an excess of malaria deaths between 20,000 and 100,000 in sub-Saharan Africa, most of them among young children,” said Pedro Alsonso, director of the WHO’s malaria program told reporters.

“It is very likely that malaria excessive mortality is greater than direct COVID mortality.”

According to the WHO report, there were 229 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2019. Despite the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries around the world had fought hard and spoken out against the disease.

“However, long-term success in achieving a malaria-free world within one generation is far from assured,” it said.

Some of the African countries hardest hit by malaria have struggled to make significant progress since 2016.

Because mosquitoes continue to transmit malaria in many parts of the world, half the world’s population is at risk of developing the disease – and a child is still killed every two minutes.

Even so, the focus of global funding and attention has been diverted, making preventable child deaths more likely.

Peter Sands, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said the findings of the WHO report were “extremely timely”.

“The global health community, media and politics are all banned from COVID … yet we pay very little attention to a disease that still kills over 400,000 people, mostly children, each year,” he told reporters the briefing.

“And to remind you that this is a disease we can get rid of – so it’s a choice we don’t make.”

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