World Malaria Day 2020

On 25 April each year we mark World Malaria Day, a disease that affected 228 million people globally in 2018, to highlight the need for new and improved tools to fight the disease, keep it high on political agendas, celebrate successes and empower communities. This year, as the COVID-19 pandemic tests the resilience of our healthcare systems and we collectively focus our efforts on exit strategies, we are conscious that malaria is not on lockdown. While the 2019 World Malaria Report showed that 85% of patients with suspected malaria are now tested with a rapid diagnostic – up from just 38% a decade ago – the explosion of COVID-19 is threatening progress and the diversion of already-stretched resources is putting more lives at risk.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reminds us that we shouldn’t be choosing between one disease or another. Rather, we must take an integrated approach: “The confirmation of a malaria infection does not rule out the possibility that the patient might also be suffering from COVID-19; similarly, suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients in malaria-endemic areas should also receive a malaria diagnostic test.” The same can be said for dengue fever, scrub typhus, typhoid – in fact every febrile illness. In practice, however, wide availability of tests for all these diseases is lacking. Together with expert colleagues from Asia, in a paper just published in The Lancet Global Health we explore how continued access to malaria diagnosis might be achieved in the face of a pandemic, and propose recommendations for healthcare packages in community and primary healthcare settings to differentiate febrile diseases.

Finding different ways of working is the new normal for all of us, including our programme teams. Our Malaria & Fever team is committed to on ensuring continuity in our ongoing projects, whether it involves remote monitoring of clinical trial sites or engaging with our partners, including test manufacturers, to find mitigation strategies wherever possible.

On this rather exceptional World Malaria Day, we join WHO and the RBM Partnership to End Malaria in promoting “Zero malaria starts with me.”