SEATTLE, Washington — As the world works to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are temporarily closing down, people are staying home and borders are shutting down. Governments worldwide are implementing these infection preventative measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. However, these measures also pose a challenge to essential operations necessary to save lives worldwide. Malaria continues to be a threat in many impoverished countries, and critical operations to protect the most vulnerable are in jeopardy due to preventative measures aimed at slowing the pandemic. Working to fight COVID-19 and malaria simultaneously is crucial to saving lives.
Malaria Prevention and Treatment
Mosquitoes spread malaria, a parasitic illness, which can be fatal without prompt treatment. However, the risk of contracting malaria can be mitigated by using insect nets, particularly insecticide-treated nets (ITNs), chemoprophylaxis and other methods. Many nonprofits, governments and other organizations work to distribute these essential items and other preventative steps to help those most at risk for contracting malaria.
COVID-19 Lockdowns and Malaria
While a lockdown can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, it has the potential to severely hamper the fight against malaria as it impacts the delivery of these essential items and services. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the pandemic is already disrupting supply chains worldwide, creating a significant challenge for organizations’ delivery of antimalarials, ITNs and other vital products to combat malaria.
WHO also released a statement explaining that the number of malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa could reach 769,000 this year. This would mean that the mortality rate from malaria in the region would jump to a high not seen since 2000, and it would also represent a doubling of deaths from just two years ago. Moreover, lockdowns can prevent progress in the fight against malaria, but they could also set the fight back substantially.
Continuing the Fight Against Malaria Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic
However, there is still time to prevent this disastrous outcome. The modeling analysis in WHO’s statement predicted the high number of deaths only if there is 75% less access to antimalarials and the distribution of ITNs in sub-Saharan Africa.
As such, humanitarian organizations are reaffirming their commitment to fighting malaria, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The Malaria Consortium, a large nonprofit organization working to fight malaria, is committed to fighting COVID-19 alongside malaria. The nonprofit has announced plans to continue distributing seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC), which is essential for protecting young children from malaria. Furthermore, the nonprofit plans to reach six million more children with SMC this year than in 2019.
The WHO’s research indicates that relief efforts need to address COVID-19 and malaria simultaneously to prevent life loss. This means continuing campaigns to fight malaria in the safest way possible. Humanitarian organizations, such as the Malaria Consortium, are moving in the right direction to save as many vulnerable groups as possible. However, protecting supply chains for essential products is critical to ensure that the fight against malaria can continue. Now, more than ever, humanitarian organizations, NGOs and individuals need to work together to make access to critical resources and supplies possible.