When the Ebola outbreak escalated in 2014, visits to health centres in Guinea fell by about 42% in the worst affected regions of the country, with many people hesitating from seeking medical help out of fear of contracting the epidemic, said a report published in the medical journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.
“One problem is that the early symptoms of malaria [fever, headache, and body aches] mimic those of Ebola virus disease,” Mateusz Plucinski of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the lead author of the research, said in a statement.
“Malaria is one of the main causes of fever and health facilities visits in Guinea, but our data suggest that since the start of the Ebola epidemic people with fevers have avoided clinics for fear of contracting Ebola or being sent to an Ebola treatment centre.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has now come forward and explained how Ebola has killed 2 444 people in Guinea, of a total of 11 169 in the three worst hit West African countries.
However, because of thousands of untreated malaria cases, the number of malaria deaths resulting from the Ebola outbreak in Guinea is likely to greatly exceed those caused by Ebola itself, said the researchers.
In the areas most affected by the Ebola outbreak, the number of people receiving malaria drugs dropped by almost 70%, said the study.
“Malaria control efforts and care delivery must be kept on track during an Ebola epidemic so that progress made in malaria control is not jeopardized and Ebola outbreak response is not impeded,” said Plucinski.
The researchers surveyed 120 public health facilities in Guinea in December 2014, both in areas affected by the virus and those that were Ebola-free.
Worldwide, malaria killed about 584 000 people in 2013, including about 453 000 children under 5 years old. Although funding to fight malaria has increased threefold since 2005, it is still only around half the $5.1bn needed.