The new coronavirus pandemic could severely disrupt access to anti – malaria nets and drugs in sub – Saharan Africa , the World Health Organization said Thursday , warning that malaria deaths risked doubling if efforts are not urgently scaled up.
The UN health agency called on countries in sub – Saharan Africa , where nearly 95 percent of all the world ’ s malaria cases and deaths occur , to rapidly distribute malaria prevention and treatment tools now , before they become too overwhelmed with novel coronavirus cases.
“ Severe disruptions to insecticide – treated net campaigns and access to antimalarial medicines could lead to a doubling in the number of malaria deaths in sub – Saharan Africa this year compared to 2018, ” the WHO warned , citing new modelling analysis .
The analysis , it said , considers nine scenarios for potential disruptions in access to core malaria control tools during the pandemic across 41 countries , and the resulting possible increases in cases and deaths .
Under the worst- case scenario , in which all campaigns to distribute insecticide – treated nets are suspended and there is a 75 – percent reduction in access to effective antimalarial medicines, “the estimated tally of malaria deaths in sub -Saharan Africa in 2020 would reach 769 , 000 , ” WHO said .
That is twice the number of deaths reported in the region in 2018, it stressed , adding that such an increase would mean returning to malaria mortality levels not seen in two decades.
The hike would have particularly dire consequences for young children , with those under five making up more than two – thirds of all malaria deaths in 2018 .
WHO stressed that so far, sub -Saharan African countries had reported relatively few cases in the COVID – 19 pandemic, which has killed more than 180 , 000 people globally and infected more than 2 . 6 million .
But the agency , which has long warned that weak health systems in the region risked becoming seriously overwhelmed as cases increase , said the disease was picking up pace there.
“ This means that countries across the region have a critical window of opportunity to minimise disruptions in malaria prevention and treatment and save lives at this stage of the COVID – 19 outbreak , ” it said .
“Mass vector control campaigns should be accelerated , ensuring protection for both health workers and communities against COVID – 19 transmission , ” it said .
In a separate statement Thursday , the WHO also reiterated its call to maintain immunisation services worldwide to ensure the measures taken to halt the pandemic do not end up sparking a resurgence of vaccine- preventable diseases like measles and polio .
“ While the world strives to develop a new vaccine for COVID – 19 at record speed , we must not risk losing the fight to protect everyone, everywhere against vaccine- preventable diseases , ” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the statement .
“ These diseases will come roaring back if we do not vaccinate .
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