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Global Fund vindicates Malawi on malaria fears

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Charles Mwansambo

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.

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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.

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“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.

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