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“We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear”
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on the COVID-19 pandemic on 11 March 2020

When the WHO declared in early March of this year that COVID-19 had reached the stage of a pandemic, governments and communities mobilised to respond. Their actions have been key in isolating cases, slowing disease transmission and easing the burden on overextended health systems.  

But these measures could also cause serious disruptions to health services for other diseases, such as malaria, HIV and tuberculosis, particularly in low- and middle-income settings. Response measures such as restrictions to movement or home confinement, physical distancing and diversion of resources to cope with the increased demand on health systems could severely impact health seeking behaviours, the delivery of existing interventions (such as net distribution to prevent malaria infection) and diagnosis and treatment of other communicable diseases. 

Assess, adapt, act 

Global efforts to halt the spread of the pandemic and alleviate pressures on healthcare systems have made clear that our emergency response efforts must promote and facilitate the continued delivery of existing essential healthcare services,[1] not compromise it. Containment efforts can be sustained, and even enhanced, by harmonising them with current interventions. 

Our 2020 seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) campaign in Nigeria demonstrates how it is possible to adapt, and act, to support vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The adaptations to our SMC campaign will ensure the continued provision of preventive and diagnostic malaria services to those most vulnerable to malaria infection — children under five. 

100,000 preventable deaths in Nigeria 

Nigeria is home to more malaria cases and deaths than any other country in the world. In 2018 alone, the country accounted for 25 percent of the 228 million cases and 24 percent of the 405,000 deaths globally.[2] Such a high disease burden has made the continued delivery of SMC  a priority during the pandemic.[3]  

Working alongside the Government of Nigeria and global and national stakeholders, Malaria Consortium has worked to develop detailed guidance on safe implementation of SMC in the context of COVID-19. This has included limiting in-person contact and social distancing, improved health education — a core element of the campaign —  and providing face masks and hand sanitiser to SMC implementers. We estimate that these adaptations will help to prevent up to 962,000 malaria cases and 9,600 malaria deaths, strengthen national and state capacity to respond to the pandemic and create more resilient health systems overall. 

Read our latest advocacy brief to find out more about these adaptations and our recommendations for national and state governments and implementing partners. 

1. WHO. COVID-19: operational guidance for maintaining essential health services during an outbreak. Interim guidance, 25 March 2020. Geneva: WHO; 2020.

2. WHO. World Malaria Report 2019. Geneva: WHO; 2019.

3. WHO and UNICEF. Community-based health care, including outreach and campaigns, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic: Interim guidance, May 2020. Geneva: WHO; 2020.