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25Apr
  • India witnesses an increase in Malaria cases every year during the monsoon in July.
  • With most hospitals and medical staff busy containing COVID-19, it might be difficult for the country to diagnose and treat Malaria.
  • According to the World Health Organisation, India is among countries with the 5th highest burden of malaria in the world.

As India fights the coronavirus pandemic, another health crisis might be lurking around which requires attention – Malaria.

India witnesses a surge in Malaria every year during the monsoons around the month of July. The local authorities step up their efforts ahead of it, with sanitation and awareness drives. However, this year, most health authorities are busy controlling the COVID-19 pandemic and experts believe that it might lead to a resurgence of Malaria.

“India has proved its dedication to end malaria, reflected through the diverse involvement in malaria programs of political, government leadership, community leaders, civil society. This has led to steady progress since 2000 and significant progress in the last two years. India has an opportunity to protect this progress. If these effective programs could start immediately – and safely – after the lockdown is lifted and before the onset of monsoon rains in early June, India’s progress against malaria can be maintained,” said Sanjeev Gaikwad, India country director of Malaria No More — an NGO which aims to end Malaria within a generation. It also supports India’s goal of Malaria elimination by 2030.

According to the World Health Organisation, India has the 5th highest burden of malaria in the world. It reported 430,000 cases of Malaria in 2018 alone. Experts fear an outbreak as most of its population resides in M alaria-endemic regions.

Health authorities are busy elsewhere

By this time every year, before the monsoon sets in, municipal authorities spray insecticides and larvicides across cities and states conduct campaigns to raise awareness and provide long-lasting insecticide nets to the needy. Accredited social health activists or ASHAs are also deployed to conduct active surveillance and direct interaction with families at risk that can help diagnose and treat Malaria early. This time, however, all the attention has shifted elsewhere.

“Insecticide-treated mosquito nets have already been distributed and all preparations for the pre-monsoon intensification of anti-Malaria activities in states like Odisha are in place. If these activities could start immediately after the lockdown is lifted and before the onset of monsoon rains in early June, India’s progress against malaria can be maintained,” Malaria No More told Business Insider India.

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Eerily similar symptoms

It might also get tougher to detect when Malaria strikes. The symptoms of COVID-19 and Malaria are eerily similar — fever, myalgia and fatigue. This may lead to challenges in early diagnosis of either of the disease. That can only multiply the troubles of the already stressed healthcare system.

This pattern was noticed during the Ebola outbreak as well in Africa. People in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leona faced problems detecting disease at the early stage. That led to the death of over a thousand people due to Malaria, in Guinea alone.

“When adversity strikes, countries with strong, robust health systems are better able to detect, monitor and respond to health crises, without interrupting other essential health services. India has an urgent opportunity to act before the monsoons to save lives and protect our health systems and India’s progress against this preventable and treatable disease,” added Malaria No More.

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