Covid has opened the floodgates of trouble, reducing hope to ashes.
Apart from leaving healthcare service facilities ill-prepared to handle its effects, it has left healthcare providers in a position where they are unable to provide other services— either because resources have been channeled to the Covid fight or because service users are unwilling to patronise healthcare facilities for fear of contracting coronavirus.
And now, barely four months after Malawi expressed fear that the Covid pandemic could compromise implementation of anti-malaria programmes, a Global Fund (GF) report has indicated that coronavirus infestation has had a devastating impact on malaria, HIV and tuberculosis (TB) programmes in Africa.
The report indicates that, while strides have been made in some areas, key programmatic results have declined for the first time in GF’s history.
In August this year, National Malaria Control Programme Director Michael Kayange said the Covid pandemic had negatively affected the timely implementation of malaria intervention programmes.
He cited an increase in malaria cases, coupled with a reduced number of patients seeking services in public health service delivery points.
“When we look at the data we have, [we find that the issue is] not only [about] malaria but, again, the whole Out Patient Department (OPD) attendance went down tremendously. We know that 36 percent of OPD [service seekers] are malaria cases, meaning that patients who stayed home continued to transmit malaria further,” he said.
The programme director further said the emergence of Covid had delayed implementation of Indoor Residual Programme, which involves planning on insecticide supplies, among other things.
Kayange said the problem had been compounded by the fact that some healthcare service providers involved in the programme had tested positive for coronavirus.
The Ministry of Health has been engaged in a two-month malaria indicator survey to, among other things, assess the malaria prevalence rate as well as the prevalence of anaemia among children aged between six and 59 months.
Malawi has a National Malaria Strategic Plan that runs from 2017 to 2022.
Malaria is endemic throughout Malawi and continues to be a major public health problem with an estimated 6 million cases occurring annually.
And, this month, GF has vindicated Malawi on Covid’s threat to the fight against malaria. It says, although “interventions to combat malaria appear to have been less badly affected by Covid than the other two diseases [HIV and Aids and TB]”, the impact has been equally devastating.
“Suspected cases of malaria tested fell by 4.3 percent and progress against the disease stalled,” the report indicates.
“The Global Fund partnership’s rapid and determined response to Covid prevented an even worse outcome. In 2020, the Global Fund disbursed $4.2 billion to continue the fight against HIV, TB and malaria and strengthen systems for health and approved an additional $980 million in funding to respond to Covid,” the report reads.
As of August 2021, GF approved a total of $3.3 billion to more than 100 countries, including Malawi, to adapt lifesaving HIV, TB and malaria programmes, provide critical tests, treatments and medical supplies, protect front-line health workers and urgently reinforce fragile systems for health.
“These investments along with fast action and funding from donors, governments, communities and health partners helped mitigate the impact of covid on HIV, TB and malaria and achieve the progress made in the fight against the three diseases,” the report adds.
Since GF’s inception in 2002, its partnerships have resulted in decreased rates of HIV and Aids, TB and malaria, with the report indicating that the number of deaths caused by Aids, TB and malaria cases decreased by 46 percent.
Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda recently said the government was providing the necessary care to those that need it, including those suffering from malaria and TB.
This was after, earlier this year, Principal Secretary for Health Charles Mwansambo indicated that some people were shunning healthcare services, ostensibly because they were afraid that they would contract corona virus.
He, however, said public healthcare service facilities were well equipped to prevent infection, hence asking people not to be afraid patronising health facilities.
Recently, Presidential Task Force on Covid co-Chairperson, Dr John Phuka, said their committee was cutting across all sectors in responding to the pandemic.
Malawi Health Equity Network Executive Director George Jobe said there was a need to intensify public awareness, so that people would continue flocking to hospitals to access services when suffering from other ailments.
However, not all hope is lost, with the Malawi Liverpool Welcome Programme (MLW) indicating that the country is on track in the fight against malaria.
MLW researcher Donnie Mategula indicated that the country was increasing access to malaria treatment and tests, citing the piloting of malaria vaccine.
“We are on track, in terms of malaria control in Malawi. The National Malaria Control Programme has set out its strategic goals to reduce malaria by 50 percent between the years 2016 and 2022,” he said.
In 2020, 385 out of 1000 people had malaria in Malawi.
One only hopes that the Covid pandemic will not stand in the way of access to healthcare services, especially among those suffering from malaria, TB and other diseases.