Malaria kills 400,000 people a year, most of them children under five, and according to WHO, most of them occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa. With the ongoing disruptions caused by the global coronavirus pandemic, gaps in life-saving interventions are surfacing – malaria could pose a serious global threat if more is not done at this point.
Indeed, a recent Lancet study noted that disruptions to malaria interventions could lead to 46 million additional cases worldwide (in 2019, malaria cases globally numbered about 229 million, and malaria claimed about 409,000 lives).
Pacific region at increased risk of Malaria
Elsewhere, experts are also warning that the Pacific is increasingly at risk of surging malaria cases if more is not done. Professor Brendan Crabb, chair of Pacific Friends of Global Health and Chief executive of the Burnet Institute, asserted that health systems overwhelmed with or focusing on Covid-19 were causing malaria control to fall by the wayside in the Pacific.
“There are a number of infectious diseases that could spike if we ignore them in the wake of the focus on Covid-19, but none are more acute than the short-term risk that malaria poses. It can double, even triple or worse in a single season if the wheels come off control measures,” he said.
He added that while many diseases posed significant risks to healthcare systems in developing countries that were struggling to respond to Covid-19, malaria was the one that could ‘explode the fastest’. “It is a very real threat in and of itself and it is also the ‘canary in the coalmine’ that indicates when we again have health problems in our region,” he warned.
Travellers be aware when travel resumes
Covid-19 aside, malaria has long been a key infection to watch out for, especially for travellers planning trips to regions in the world where infection risk is high, such as Southeast Asia. In recent years, travellers have been advised to take preventative malaria medication when travelling to regions where they might come into contact with the disease, but this is can be an unappealing process for travellers, with medication having to be started sometimes two weeks in advance and for two weeks following a trip to ensure maximum protection (which still isn’t guaranteed), and often travellers complain of accompanying nausea – as a result, some travellers simply choose not to travel to these destinations at all.
With the recovery of international travel and traveller confidence, safety and security being a key priority, it’s imperative that authorities do all they can to ensure that malaria risk does not spread.