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THURSDAY, April 23, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Nearly 11,000 extra deaths due to malaria may have occurred in 2014 because of disruptions in health care services caused by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, a new study suggests.
Another 3,900 extra malaria deaths may have been caused by the interruption of delivery of insecticide-treated sleeping nets, the British researchers said.
The study appears online April 23 in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
"The ongoing Ebola epidemic in parts of West Africa largely overwhelmed already fragile health care systems in 2014, making adequate care for malaria impossible and threatening to jeopardize progress made in malaria control and elimination over the past decade," study author Patrick Walker, of the MRC Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling at Imperial College London, said in a journal news release.
The findings suggest that the number of malaria deaths caused by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was similar to the number of deaths caused by Ebola itself. Close to 10,900 people have died from Ebola in West Africa as of April 19, 2015, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The researchers added that large-scale distribution of drugs and treated nets for the upcoming malaria season in May and June could significantly reduce the number of malaria cases and deaths associated with the disruptions from the Ebola outbreak.
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.
As the health systems in Ebola-affected countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea recover, Walker said that measures need to be taken to prevent malaria infection, such as the emergency mass drug distribution measures recommended by WHO.
The authors of an accompanying editorial from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discussed the toll of Ebola, saying that if an effective disease surveillance workforce is implemented, "health care systems will be strengthened so that the next global health threat will be detected, reported, and contained quickly.
"But as importantly, these systems should also accurately measure and report on fluctuations in established killers, including malaria, to enable an effective programmatic response," they wrote.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: The Lancet Infectious Diseases, news release, April 23, 2015