By Michelle Faul, AP
GUECKEDOU, Guinea — West Africa’s fight to contain Ebola has hampered the campaign against malaria, a preventable and treatable disease that is claiming many thousands more lives than the dreaded virus.
In Gueckedou, near the village where Ebola first started killing people in Guinea’s tropical southern forests a year ago, doctors say they have had to stop pricking fingers to do blood tests for malaria.
Guinea’s drop in reported malaria cases this year by as much as 40 percent is not good news, said Dr. Bernard Nahlen, deputy director of the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative. He said the decrease is likely because people are too scared to go to health facilities and are not getting treated for malaria.
Figures are always estimates in Guinea, where half the 12 million people have no access to health centers and die uncounted. Some 15,000 Guineans died from malaria last year, 14,000 of them children under five, according to Nets for Life Africa, a New York-based charity dedicated to providing insecticide-treated mosquito nets to put over beds. In comparison, about 1,600 people in Guinea have died from Ebola, according to statistics from the World Health Organization.
Malaria is the leading cause of death in children under five in Guinea and, after AIDS, the leading cause of adult deaths, according to Nets for Life.
Ebola and malaria have many of the same symptoms, including fever, dizziness, head and muscle aches. Malaria is caused by bites from infected mosquitoes while Ebola can be contracted only from the body fluids of an infected victim �X hence doctors’ fears of drawing blood to do malaria tests.
People suffering malaria fear being quarantined in Ebola treatment centers and health centers not equipped to treat Ebola are turning away patients with Ebola-like symptoms, doctors said.
WHO figures from Gueckedou show that of people coming in with fever in October, 24 percent who tested positive for Ebola also tested positive for malaria, and 33 percent of those who did not have Ebola tested positive for malaria �X an indication of the great burden of malaria in Guinea.
Malaria killed one of 38 Cuban doctors sent to Guinea to help fight the Ebola outbreak. One private hospital had a kidney dialysis machine that could have saved his failing organ but the clinic was shut after several people died there of Ebola.