WHO Malaria deaths during COVID-19
WHO says malaria-related deaths in Uganda, now stands at 16 per day. PHOTO: AFP/Badru Katumba

WHO warns malaria deaths could double in Sub-Saharan Africa during COVID-19 pandemic

As COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the world, Uganda is likely to lose out in the fight against malaria. World Health Organization (WHO) says malaria-related deaths in Uganda, now stands at 16 per day.

And now WHO estimates malaria death rates could double in Sub-Saharan Africa to 769,000 this year due to distractions in access to health services caused by COVID-19 lockdown.

They warn that this could be the worst malaria era in Africa in the last 20 years and double the deaths witnessed in 2018.

“Weekly reports, we have noted some slight increase in malaria cases for the past weeks compared to previous years. We are figuring out the reason, whether it’s the increased rates, or whether its disruption of services due to COVID lockdown,” Dr Jimmy Opigo, the Ministry of Health Malaria Control Programs Manager said.

Dr. opigo reveals that in January this year 1.2m people in Uganda thought the treatment for malaria, but the number later dropped to 900,000 in March this year.

39,580 people were admitted in March alone compared to 62,755 in January, with 292 deaths registered in March.

WHO Malaria deaths during COVID-19
WHO says malaria-related deaths in Uganda, now stands at 16 per day. PHOTO: AFP/Badru Katumba

Last week alone, Dr Opigo says 167,000 cases were registered with a total number of malaria deaths in Uganda per day, at 16.

At Mulago Acute Care Unit, the number of admissions has reduced; those admitted are in very bad shape.

On a normal day before COVID-19, Mulago Hospital receives between 60-82 patients every day, and now because of COVID less than half of that is seen every day, that’s between 15 and 30 patients according to the health team.

The State Minister of Health for Primary Health Care, Dr Joyce Moriku Kaducu is however worried that with the rainy season intensifying, the numbers may be overwhelmed.

“We are calling upon the public most especially district leadership, they should be very conscious, and they should know that when they are called upon to release the ambulance on cases of malaria, they should do that very willingly,” Kaducu said.

Kaducu is also concerned that the health teams have no protective wears and could make many cases of malaria go uninvestigated because malaria presents with signs similar to COVID-19.

“According to me, these are not protective gears, we have to have face masks, gumboots and may the rest, I don’t think we are protected, that’s why we advocate for more protective gears but not a quarter of it,” Kaducu said.

The Ministry is now venturing in equipping community health extension workers with medicines to be able to diagnose and treat these patients.

“To manage home-based integrated management of fever, so they are already trained. In the urban areas we’ve been working with the private sector,” Opigo said.

WHO report on malaria, states that every year over 400 thousand people die of malaria and 94 per cent of these occur in the African region. Children under five years are the most vulnerable group accounting for 67 per cent of deaths.