Malaria spike in Ebola zone prompts mass treatment efforts

Malaria bed net demonstration
Malaria bed net demonstration

Julien Harneis / Flickr cc

A surge in malaria infections—with symptoms that can mimic Ebola—in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC's) main Ebola hot spot prompted the launch today of a 4-day mass malaria drug administration campaign, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced.

Meanwhile, the DRC's health ministry today reported 1 more illness, raising the overall total to 422 cases.

Malaria campaign to reach 450,000

The malaria efforts are designed not only to treat widespread malaria illnesses and deaths, it is also geared toward relieving pressure on the medical clinics, given that 50% of people screened in Ebola treatment centers have been found to have malaria instead of Ebola, the WHO said.

The campaign is similar to one launched in Sierra Leone during its outbreak in 2014 and is led by the DRC's malaria control program with support from the WHO, UNICEF, the Global Fund, and the US President's Malaria Initiative.

The WHO said the malaria-control campaign has two parts: distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets and mass antimalarial drug administration, with a goal of reaching 450,000 people.

Mass drug administration will treat people who already contracted the disease and curb transmission among Ebola-hit populations and health centers.

Globally, the DRC has the second most malaria cases each year, right behind Nigeria. North Kivu province, where hard-hit Ebola communities are located, has experienced up to an eightfold increase—about 2,000 cases per week—in malaria as of early September compared with the same period in 2017.

Latest case, death are in Beni

The newly reported case today involves a patient from Beni, the outbreak's epicenter. Also, one more death from the virus was reported from the city. The latest developments push the overall total to 422 Ebola cases, including 375 confirmed and 47 probable, plus 242 deaths.

If cases in the DRC top 425, the outbreak will become the world's second largest, topping one that struck Uganda in 2000. Only the massive 2014-2016 West Africa outbreak is larger.

In its update today, the health ministry said 74 suspected Ebola cases are still under investigation and 37,075 people have been vaccinated against the disease, roughly half of them in Beni.

Also, officials said comedians from Beni took part in a community sensitization activity to explain the proper use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets and malaria medications.

See also:

Nov 28 WHO statement on malaria-control campaign

Nov 28 DRC update

This week's top reads