Deaths from malaria will far exceed the numbers killed by Covid-19 in sub-Saharan Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) is warning.
This is partly due to disruptions to medical services designed to tackle the mosquito-borne disease during the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 400,000 people around the world were killed by malaria last year, most of them babies and children in the poorest parts of Africa, WHO says in its latest global malaria report, and Covid-19 will almost certainly make that toll higher in 2020.
“Our estimates are that depending on the level of service disruption due to Covid-19 there could be an excess of malaria deaths of somewhere between 20,000 and 100,000 in sub-Saharan Africa, most of them in young children,” Pedro Alsonso, director of WHO’s malaria programme, told reporters.
“It’s very likely that malaria mortality is larger than the direct Covid-19 mortality.”
The WHO report found there were 229 million malaria cases globally in 2019, and said that despite the unprecedented challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, many countries around the world had fought hard and held the line against the disease.
But “long-term success in reaching a malaria-free world within a generation is far from assured”, the report said.
Due to ongoing transmission of malaria via mosquitoes in many parts of the world, half the global population is at risk of contracting the disease, and it still kills a child every two minutes. Despite this, the focus of global funding and attention has been diverted to the current pandemic, making preventable child deaths more likely.
Peter Sands, executive director of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, said the WHO report’s findings were extremely timely.
“The global health world, the media, and politics, are all transfixed by Covid-19, and yet we are paying very little attention to a disease that is still killing over 400,000 people every year, mainly children,” he told reporters.
“And to remind you, this is a disease we do know how to get rid of – so it is a choice we make if we do not do that.”