Experts estimate approximately 74,000 malaria cases went untreated in 2014 because of the Ebola epidemic that overwhelmed health facilities in Guinea, research published Monday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal said.
Estimates of malaria cases in years prior to the Ebola outbreak showed that there were significantly more malaria cases treated at Guinea’s health facilities. Because the clinics were overrun with the Ebola outbreak, analysts suggest that there may have been more malaria deaths than Ebola deaths. By June 2015, there were 2,444 Ebola deaths in Guinea, but there is still an increasing number of malaria deaths.
The initial systematic analysis for outpatient health care in the health facilities located in Ebola-affected Guinea show that 42 percent of outpatient attendance dropped. Treated malaria cases also fell by 69 percent.
The lead author of the findings was Dr. Mateusz Plucinski from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and President's Malaria Initiative.
"One problem is that the early symptoms of malaria (fever, headache, and body aches) mimic those of Ebola virus disease," Plucinski said. "Malaria is one of the main causes of fever and health facilities visits in Guinea, but our data suggest that since the start of the Ebola epidemic people with fevers have avoided clinics for fear of contracting Ebola or being sent to an Ebola treatment center.
"Untreated malaria cases lead to rising malaria death rates and more cases of fever in the community,” Plucinski said. “This puts extra pressure on an already overburdened health system owing to a greater number of suspected Ebola cases requiring triage and isolation at treatment centers. Malaria control efforts and care delivery must be kept on track during an Ebola epidemic so that progress made in malaria control is not jeopardized and Ebola outbreak response is not impeded.
"Benefits of mass drug administration include a rapid reduction in the malaria burden for a certain period, and a decrease in the incidence of febrile illnesses due to malaria,” Plucinski said. “This reduces the presentation of patients who are febrile at Ebola evaluation facilities, results in a reduced risk of nosocomial transmission of Ebola virus to patients with malaria, and reduces the workload at those facilities. …To restore the credibility of health service delivery in the population, it is important that Ebola-virus-disease-specific activities in the communities, such as contract tracing and safe burials, are accompanied by the delivery of standard health services, such as distribution of long-lasting impregnated nets, vaccination, or community case management of child diseases with specific no-touch approaches appropriate to the context of the epidemic."