Oct 03, 2014 10:41 PM EDT
Increasingly the Ebola epidemic that began last march in West Africa has reached a global level of concern, even more so as the lethal virus has spread to the west. But as health organizations and governments throughout all of Africa divert resources to contain and treat the hemorrhagic fever that has claimed thousands already, they're ignoring an even deadlier pathogen sitting on the sidelines: Malaria.
To say that the Ebola epidemic has caused quite a bit of disorder would be the understatement of the decade. While efforts and supplies have been diverted towards the infectious outbreak, West African nations like Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have seen that the entire infrastructure of control efforts meant to keep mosquito-borne Malaria at bay have entirely shut down in the shadow cast by Ebola. And it's a change that many fear will lead to even greater mortality in the months to come.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that at least 3,000 individuals have died in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, as a highly conservative estimate because the disposal of infected bodies has not been properly regulated, in a normal distribution of Malaria caused by mosquitos in 2012 the disease claimed a death toll twice greater than the current Ebola outbreak. And though Malaria-related deaths have fallen by approximately 30% in recent years, the fairly preventable disease can see a large upsurge in fatal cases as distributions of free bed nets, tests and treatments have ceased since the arrival of Ebola on the West African scene.
"It's a disaster in all ways possible" tropical-medicine specialist for Doctors Without Borders, Estrella Lasry says. "The public-health impact will be huge."
And even worse, is the fear that is consuming West Africa at the moment with the potential infectious nature of every individual; literally anyone could be a lethal vector. And it's this fear that will allow Malaria to go undetected and continue killing without any preventative measures in place.
Because both Malaria and Ebola are similar viral diseases, transmittable by contact with blood, directors of organizations like Thomas Teuscher of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership foresee that many infections of Malaria will be unreported as patients refuse to be admitted for fear of contracting Ebola and health workers fear the spread of disease by the necessary blood tests used to confirm Malaria.
But if Malaria control programs were reinstated, there would be an even larger force combatting both diseases. Adding even further to collaborative efforts across multiple organizations to combat viral pathogens in West Africa, the anti-malarial efforts could indeed bring trained professionals to the front line against disease.
"Potentially, we have an army of people available in these countries who have experience delivering malaria treatments" Teuscher says. "They're still there; they just need to be helped to do a good job."
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