Ebola nudges malaria out of the frame

Ebola is terrible but malaria is also terrible. Both are killers. The BBC reports on worries that Ebola might displace efforts to prevent malaria.

Dr Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré, who heads the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership, said after visiting west Africa: “Understandably, all the health workers’ attention is on Ebola.”

Children’s wards which used to be full of malaria patients were becoming “ghost areas,” she added.

In 2012, malaria killed 7,000 people in the three countries worst hit by Ebola.

4,000 deaths in Sierra Leone in 2012, around 2,000 deaths in Liberia, circa 1,000 in Guinea.

Now the three countries are wrestling with the Ebola virus and Dr Nafo-Traoré said she feared that recent gains in preventing malaria could be threatened by the crisis.

She said: “These countries have previously been really hit by malaria. But five years ago, it was even worse – the deaths were double.

“We all agree that no child should die from malaria, because we have the tools to prevent and treat it.

“But now, understandably, all the health workers’ attention is on Ebola.”

Health workers are busy with Ebola, so the malaria wards are empty because there are no health workers to staff them. That means no one knows how many people are dying of malaria.

RBM is a partnership of more than 500 organisations. It was formed 16 years ago to co-ordinate global efforts against malaria.

It says Guinea and Sierra Leone met key targets last year for distributing bed nets – a crucial weapon for protecting children from mosquitoes which spread malaria.

Bed nets. Wouldn’t it be nice if those homeopaths who are there meddling with the Ebola outbreak instead simply distributed bed nets? That would actually accomplish something.


  1. RJW says

    Of course all the attention is on Ebola because it scares the bejeezus out of the citizens of industrialised countries, malaria doesn’t.

  2. Dunc says

    I’m not sure that’s entirely fair, RJW. The characteristics of the two diseases are very different. The healthcare professionals in the affected countries are currently trying to arrest, or at least slow, the spread of Ebola. That’s a perfectly sensible goal for a very dangerous infectious disease showing more-or-less exponential growth in the number of new cases. Also, the symptoms are both acute and really quite horrific – would you rather they just turned dying people away saying, “Sorry, we’ve got other things to do”? The fundamental problem is that the healthcare systems in these countries are weak at the best of times, and so are completely unprepared to deal with any additional stress.

  3. RJW says

    @2 Dunc,

    Perhaps, however, if either disease were endemic in the West I’m sure more attention and money would have been spent on research. I was really referring to the different Western attitudes toward Ebola in contrast to malaria, which so far, is more lethal than Ebola. Why? Because an Ebola epidemic is wrongly perceived as a significant threat to populations in the developed world, I never suggested that it was an ‘either or’ situation.

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