According to new research, nearly 11,000 extra malaria deaths may have occurred last year due to the disruption of healthcare services in West Africa currently experiencing widespread Ebola virus outbreaks.
A further 3,900 deaths may have resulted from interruptions in the delivery of insecticide-treated bed nets (ITN), according to outbreak modelling data published in The Lancet on the eve of World Malaria Day.
This suggested the haemorrhagic fever outbreak “could have resulted in a comparable number of malaria deaths as those due to Ebola itself,” said a statement issued by the medical journal.
“The ongoing Ebola epidemic in parts of West Africa largely overwhelmed already fragile healthcare systems in 2014 making adequate care for malaria impossible,” said Patrick Walker from Imperial College London, the lead author of the study.
These new estimates of malaria deaths that would have been prevented by health systems when functioning normally, suggest that the west African Ebola outbreak could have resulted in comparable number of malaria deaths as those due to Ebola itself. However, the findings also indicate that implementing mass drug administration (MDA) and ITN campaigns to coincide with the 2015 malaria transmission season in May/June could largely mitigate the impact of Ebola on malaria.
The study estimates that if the health care system returns to pre-Ebola levels, more than 15,000 malaria deaths will be prevented in 2015.
The unprecedented deployment of U.S. troops to West Africa last year as part of the international response to the Ebola crisis saw no American service members contracting the deadly virus.
But five soldiers did fall prey to another disease. They contracted malaria, a concern that underscores the need for continued vaccine research, according to Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho.
Army officials say three troops contracted malaria in Liberia between October and November and two more were suspected of having a malaria infection.
The soldiers — four from the 15th Engineer Battalion and one from the 101st Airborne Division — were diagnosed after they returned to garrison and finished their mandatory 21-day quarantines.
All responded to treatment, Horoho said.
Last month, researchers cautioned about a likely surge of measles and other diseases due to interrupted vaccination campaigns in the three countries, which may culminate in a new public health emergency.
The World Health Organization says more than 26,000 people have been infected with Ebola since the outbreak began late 2013, and more than 10,800 have died.