By Sola Ogundipe
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa, malaria – one of the world’s oldest diseases – is impacting disproportionately on pregnant women and children aged under five.
For a pregnant woman, her fetus, and the newborn child malaria infection carries substantial risks.
Calling for a speedy scale-up to boost protection against malaria for pregnant women in Africa, the Roll Back Malaria, RBM Partnership to End Malaria Working Group is issuing an urgent appeal to leaders and health policymakers to increase access to Intermittent Preventive Treatment during pregnancy, IPTp, among eligible pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa.
Along with stakeholders, the RBM Partnership is pushing for scale-up coverage of three doses of IPTp to reach all eligible women in sub-Saharan Africa by 2025.
In 2019, according to the RBM Partnership, an estimated 11 million pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa, or 29 percent of all pregnancies were infected with malaria.
Worse still, nearly 900,000 children in Nigeria and 37 other African countries were born with a low birth weight due to malaria in pregnancy, even as children under five still accounted for two-thirds (67 percent) of all malaria deaths worldwide.
Giving a state-of-malaria snapshot, the RBM Partnership announced that over 90 percent of life-saving malaria campaigns are on track in the majority of malaria-affected countries despite the challenges presented by COVID-19.
While life-saving malaria intervention campaigns scheduled for 2020 are on track across Africa, helping to protect millions from the disease and avoiding the severe increase in malaria cases and deaths remains paramount.
In September 2020, the Global Fund’s 2020 Results Report highlighted that deaths caused by AIDS, TB, and malaria could skyrocket in the next 12 months due to COVID-19.
Similarly, The Lancet published a new modelling analysis which found that the substantial progress made in reducing the burden of malaria in Africa since 2000 could be jeopardised if the COVID-19 pandemic affects the availability of key malaria control interventions.
Researchers from the University of Oxford have also warned that Africa should be wary of a new Asian mosquito species with the potential to spread malaria into Africa’s urban areas.
In recent times, the RBM Partnership has urged that amidst national shutdowns, all countries should mobilise to continue life-saving campaigns, ensure the availability of malaria commodities and availability and affordability of life-saving tools.