Fighting Malaria in Liberia in the Face of Ebola

Fighting Malaria in Liberia in the Face of Ebola

 {Photo credit: Anthony Yeakpalah/MSH.}Meeting community volunteers to update them on malaria case management measures during the Ebola crisis.Photo credit: Anthony Yeakpalah/MSH.

The unprecedented outbreak and spread of the Ebola virus in three West African countries (Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone) continues to wreak havoc on the lives, economy, and already-strained health systems of the region. The outbreak is particularly high in Liberia with 2,413 people killed by the disease to date.

While the Government of Liberia and partners are mobilizizing all efforts to control Ebola, there is evidence that other diseases are being neglected as a result of health facilities closing down, fear of seeking treatment at health facilities, and the Ministry of Health’s policy to focus its resources and staff to manage Ebola, maternal and child health, and emergency services.

In its early stages, malaria symptoms closely resemble those of Ebola infection: fever. The unrelenting influx of suspected Ebola cases to health centers raises serious issues of capacity, safety, and ability to identify Ebola cases in time for isolation and management.

To manage suspected malaria in light of this precarious situation, many people have resorted to self-medication and the informal health care sector: private pharmacies and community-based caregivers and medicine sellers.

The US Government President’s Malaria Initiative is supporting the US Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Leadership, Management, and Governance (LMG) Project, led by MSH in close collaboration with Mentor Initiative, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization (WHO), to improve coordinated national efforts in the fight against malaria in Burundi, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, and Liberia.

In Liberia, MSH has worked with the National Malaria Control Program (NMCP) to suspend testing for malaria in the informal health care sector until the Ebola outbreak is over on the basis that strict infection prevention and control measures could not be guaranteed.

To ensure that suspected early-stage malaria cases are not confused with Ebola infections, MSH is providing ongoing support:

  • MSH is working with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)-France and the NMCP to implement mass drug administration of antimalarial medicine in Ebola hotspots in Monrovia, which is experiencing the highest number of cases. This approach is expected to reduce the fever caseload and relieve the pressure on health facilities to focus on Ebola management. It will also avoid the potential cross-infection of malaria cases who are mistakenly classified as Ebola and kept in Ebola treatment centers pending test results.
  • We are working with the NMCP to scale-up community case management of malaria in hard-to-reach communities.
  • MSH also is working closely with the NMCP and our partners to distribute long-last insecticide treated bednets throughout the country to further reduce malaria during the peak transmission period so that fewer fever cases are presented to health facilities and health workers can focus on detection and management of Ebola cases.

MSH is committed to strengthening malaria control during and after the Ebola outbreak, and we have stationed an infectious disease expert in Liberia to ensure our response is timely and effective.

Learn more

MSH Ebola response

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