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WHO warns malaria deaths could double during virus pandemic

The new coronavirus pandemic could severely disrupt access to anti-malaria nets and drugs in sub-Saharan Africa, the World Health Organization said Thursday, warning that malaria deaths risked doubling if efforts are not urgently scaled up.

The UN health agency called on countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly 95 percent of all the world’s malaria cases and deaths occur, to rapidly distribute malaria prevention and treatment tools now, before they become too overwhelmed with novel coronavirus cases.

“Severe disruptions to insecticide-treated net campaigns and access to antimalarial medicines could lead to a doubling in the number of malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa this year compared to 2018,” the WHO warned, citing new modelling analysis.

The analysis, it said, considers nine scenarios for potential disruptions in access to core malaria control tools during the pandemic across 41 countries, and the resulting possible increases in cases and deaths.

WHO stressed that so far, sub-Saharan African countries had reported relatively few cases in the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 180,000 people globally and infected more than 2.6 million.

“This means that countries across the region have a critical window of opportunity to minimise disruptions in malaria prevention and treatment and save lives at this stage of the COVID-19 outbreak,” it said.

“While the world strives to develop a new vaccine for COVID-19 at record speed, we must not risk losing the fight to protect everyone, everywhere against vaccine-preventable diseases,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the statement.

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