Last week there were a number of reports in the press that The Queen was concerned Ebola risks overshadowing malaria - one of the world's oldest and deadliest diseases. This echoes a growing worry from many quarters of the immediate and longer term impact the Ebola crisis will have on malaria, especially given those countries in the heart of the Ebola crisis are some of the world's most malarious. In 2012 alone, there were an estimated 21,400 deaths from malaria in the three countries at the heart of the Ebola outbreak, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
The fight against malaria in these countries is being seriously compromised by the Ebola outbreak, something that is increasingly being recognised. African governments such as Guinea have spoken about how Ebola is eroding the country's recent gains in reducing the malaria mortality rate by fifty percent. Those working on malaria programmes on the ground - and the donors who fund them such as The Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria - are also fully aware of the detrimental impact Ebola is having on many infectious diseases and health services, and adapting their responses and interventions to the current realities they face.
But what makes this even more desperate is that the fight against malaria - which is preventable (with tools such as bednets and indoor residual spraying) and treatable (it can cost as little as £1 to diagnose and treat a child) - has made great progress in these countries in recent years. Hard earned progress is now in jeopardy in Ebola affected countries where they face crumbling health systems, shortage of health workers (the fatality rate of Ebola-infected healthcare workers was an estimated 57% in October) and fearful communities who are reluctant to seek treatment for fear of being infected by Ebola. Many patients are reportedly not seeking treatment as they shun clinics. Even more worrying is that because the initial symptoms of malaria and Ebola can be similar (such as fever, headaches and aching joints), people are confusing the diseases - meaning there are delays in correct diagnosis and life saving treatment for malaria. We are at risk of seeing progress in malaria at best be derailed, at worst reversed.
However we have witnessed, yet again, the dynamic combination of support and leadership on Ebola from both the UK public and government. The public's generosity to the various Ebola appeals - from the Disasters and Emergency Committee which reached a milestone £20 million last week to the updated version of the Band Aid single- is hugely heart warming as we prove once again that the UK cares. This is combined with strong British leadership which has seen the government commit a £230 million package of direct support to help contain, control and treat Ebola, and the hundreds of NHS workers who have volunteered to face the dire but desperately important tasks in affected countries. And these efforts, as part of the bigger global response are beginning to take effect. Experts are cautiously advising that there are signs there may indeed be a slowing down in the growth of the number of cases of Ebola, a truly terrible and heartbreaking disease.
But as African leaders and our own Head of State rightly warn, we should not distract our attention and efforts from also fighting the one disease that has killed more children than any other in history (and a child every minute), malaria.
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