By Chidinma Chukwu, Abuja.
There are fears that Malaria deaths in Sub- Saharan African may double by the end of 2020 as a result of limited access to healthcare services with the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the world today.
The National Coordinator, National Malaria Elimination Programme NMEP Dr Audu Bala Mohammed gave the indication at the 2020 bi-annual media chat in Abuja.
The National Coordinator who was represented by the Head, Advocacy Communication and Social Mobilization unit of NMEP, Mr Chukwu Okoronkwo also expressed concern that under the worst-case scenario presented in an analysis, the death toll in sub-saharan Africa in 2020 would exceed the total number of malaria deaths reported globally in the year 2000.
Key services in the health sector are being seriously disrupted in many Sub-Saharan African countries as they respond to the pandemic thereby compounding the challenges of malaria and other heath issues.
According to the National Coordinator, activities are being canceled or delayed in various healthcare facilities due to:
“Lockdowns, restrictions on gatherings of people, transport stoppages, COVID-related stigma, reluctance of health workers to attend to people suspected of having TB or malaria – which have many of the same initial symptoms as COVID-19, Clients not seeking health services as usual.
Members of the pubic are also scared of visiting health care facilities for medical care given that COVID-19 entry symptoms are same as those of malaria which can lead to high mortality rate. This disruptions of malaria prevention and treatment during COVID-19 response must be minimized as failure to do so could lead to catastrophic loss of life.
Although Nigeria had recorded some progress in reduction of malaria prevalence from 42% to 23%, along with a 38% reduction in mortality, according to the 2018 NDHS results, a lot still needs to be done to achieve in the country’s current malaria strategic plan.
He further expressed government’s commitment to ensuring that access to and use of Insecticide treated nets is maintained through campaigns that are adapted to protect health workers and communities from COVID-19.
“This is the time to implore the Nigerian populace to take the necessary preventive measures to avoid getting sick with malaria such as sleeping inside the net every night, having screens on doors and windows (for those that can afford it), pregnant women uptake of preventive medicines at regular intervals during pregnancy, and ensuring children below 5 years in the sahelian region are brought out to have preventive medicines during the SMC campaigns” he stressed
Also speaking, the Deputy Director, Integrated Vector Management NMEP, Philip Okoko stressed the need to build stronger healthcare capacity at various level in the sector to address the challenges in the system.
The theme of the media chat, “Sustaining and improving access to malaria interventions while dealing with COVID-19 related stigma and fear”.