Eastern Region: Coronavirus Scare spikes Malaria Mortality Rates in Infants Under 5; as Health Facilities Record Low Turn Out
Posted on June 30, 2020
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads rapidly around the globe, including Ghana, there is an urgent need to aggressively tackle the novel coronavirus while ensuring that other killer diseases such as malaria are not neglected.
The Ghana Health Service (GHS) has advised that patients with mild or moderate health conditions should visit hospitals only when they are very ill or else they should manage their diseases at home. The directive in itself is ambiguous, is it a directive for all diseases? Or is it in relation to the symptoms of Covid 19?
At Somanya Polyclinic in the Yilo Krobo Municipal in the Eastern Region, two children under age 5, have passed away from severe malaria as a result of reporting late at the facility, and three others died from untreated pneumonia in the last couple of weeks alone.
Commenting on the mortalities, Dr. Wisdom Owulaku, the Medical Director at the facility said, “ there has been a sharp reduction in hospital attendance since the outbreak of the pandemic, “we have recorded some avoidable deaths from malaria and other illnesses that were left unmanaged for a while. If COVID-19 wasn’t around, they probably would have come earlier to be attended to and these preventable deaths wouldn’t have happened”.
At the Agormanya St. Martin De Porres Hospital in the Lower Maya Krobo Municipal, attendance has fallen by nearly fifty percent since the outbreak of COVID-19. But Dr. Stephen Kusi, the Medical Superintendent of the hospital said, the fall could be due to fear of stigmatization for covid-19 rather than as a result of the directives from the Ghana Health Service.
Records from the Somanya Polyclinic shows that, attendance keeps decreasing sharply since January this year, but decreased at an increasing rate in the COVID-19 era.
While May and April registered the lowest ever in the peak period the facility; 1,180 and 1,1341 in that order, January and February recorded the highest of 2, 325 and 1,834 respectively. March, 2020, also experienced a decrease of 220, bringing the attendance for the month to 1,614.
According to Dr. Wisdom, trend analysis have pinned the period of April to July every year as the peak of hospital attendance in the district.
Speaking to some patients at the Atua Government Hospital, some said they had heard rumuors that COVID-19 infected persons are kept at the facility, and for fear of coming into contact with the disease they buy over-the-counter medications from chemical drug stores for as long as they can till they absolutely must come to the hospital.
A nurse on duty at one of the health facilities said, some patients go to private health laboratories to confirm their conditions before appearing at the hospitals.
“Out of panic and fear of COVID-19, a gentleman who came here for malaria treatment, first went to test at a private laboratory and after he was confirmed positive he showed up for treatment,” nurse (name withheld) said.
Rate Of Malaria Prevalence Amidst Covid-19
According to a World malaria report in 2019, Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for approximately 93% of all malaria cases and 94% of deaths in 2018. Using a modelling analysis the report states that malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa in 2020 would reach 769, 000, twice the number recorded in the region in 2018.
It is critical to note that, in the event that COVID-19 disrupts access to core malaria control tools during the pandemic, where all insecticide-treated net campaigns are suspended and a three-fourth reduction in access to effective anti-malaria medicines; the predications in the report more likely to be real.
Verifying the propensity of the WHO analysis to manifest, figures from the Yilo Krobo Municipal Health Directorate, for the months of March and April gave the following picture.
From the table above, a total of 3, 186 malaria cases were recorded in March and April, 2020. Separating, 913 of the number were children under five years. Meanwhile, females form a majority of patients who tested positive for malaria with over half (1, 840).
Following the trend of growth in malaria cases, suggestions are that; districts should accelerate mass vector control campaigns, while ensuring that they are deployed in ways that protect health workers and communities against COVID-19 transmission. Preventive therapies for pregnant women and children must be maintained. The provision of prompt diagnostic testing and effective antimalarial drug education and administration must also be strengthened.
Writer: Omanba Kodwo Boafo