Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and Sierra Leone's Ministry of Health recently administered the largest distribution of antimalarial drugs in Freetown and five neighboring districts.
More than 6,000 volunteers went door-to-door over four days to distribute 1.5 million treatments of artesunate amodiaquine, which prevents malaria from spreading as well as treats the disease.
It is almost the peak of malaria season, and medical professionals want to prevent malaria before it begins.
Not only is this safer and healthier for the patients, some of whom cannot typically afford the drugs, but hospitals in West Africa are currently overrun with Ebola patients. Anyone with malaria symptoms will have difficulty finding medical care because of the strained health services.
Malaria patients also may be mistaken for Ebola patients. Symptoms of malaria are similar to the early signs of Ebola, including fatigue, high fever, headaches, dizziness and muscle aches.
“In the context of Ebola, malaria is a major concern, because people who are sick with malaria have the same symptoms as people sick with Ebola,” Patrick Robataille, MSF field coordinator in Freetown, said. “As a result, most people turn up at Ebola treatment centers thinking that they have Ebola, when actually they have malaria. It’s a huge load on the system, as well as being a huge stress on patients and their families.”
Sierra Leone is the fifth most malaria-ridden country in the world.
“The size of this campaign is in proportion to the scale of the Ebola epidemic – it’s massive,” Robataille said.
Doctors Without Borders has scheduled a second mass-distribution of the antimalarial drug in January.