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MALARIA VS CORONAVIRUS DISEASE: THE MYTHS AND MEDICAL TRUTHS

Photo Credit: MedPage Today 5 mins read

Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus disease a pandemic, there have been different objections against the nature of the virus as some people continue to disbelieve that such disease is truly pandemic. But the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, during his opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 11 March 2020, affirmed that “We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic”. He added that “describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do”.

The sad part is that this virus, an infectious disease caused by ‘Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-COV-2) and later referred to as COVID-19, has been responsible for millions of infections globally, with over eight hundred thousand confirmed dead. Yet, many people, especially in this part of Africa, believe it is only a severe malaria while some others believe it is a political scam. 

Looking at several researches and medical findings, it is evident that, though Coronavirus or SARS-COV-2 disease has some symptoms in common with malaria, it is a great pandemic confronting all countries in the world. It is also believed to have some distinct relations in human bodies that can be compared to malaria.

So, what differentiates Malaria from Coronavirus Disease?

First, their causative organisms. The most prevalent parasite that causes malaria is medically called plasmodium falciparum’ while coronavirus disease is from a family of viruses called coronaviridae’ which causes illness such as respiratory disease and gastrointestinal disease. So, Malaria and Coronavirus disease have two different causative organisms. While malaria is caused by a parasite, coronavirus disease is caused by a virus. Malaria is transmitted by vectors (female Anopheles Mosquitoes) which can easily be controlled, but the virus causing COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through droplets which can be easily contracted and it is lethal (very harmful to cause death).

Second, their presenting symptoms. Even though the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Journal of Infectious Diseases (IJID) identified some similarities in the clinical manifestations of both such as fever, headache, catarrh and sore throat, among few others, coronavirus disease has more severe symptoms such as difficulty in breathing (respiratory infection), loss of taste, and cough, among some other distinct symptoms. The signs and symptoms of coronavirus disease  are more serious and deadly. The loss of taste, loss of smell, and respiratory infection are peculiar to coronavirus disease alone as they have not been recorded in a malaria patient. Hence, coronavirus disease differs from malaria.

Third, their mortality rates. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) report 2019 at a glance, there were 231 million cases of Malaria globally in 2017 and 228 million in 2018 with a mortality rate of 416,000 in 2017 and 405,000 in 2018. While the 2019 WHO report on Malaria is yet to be out, worldometer info published on August 27, 2020 shows that since the report of coronavirus disease in December 2019, about nine months now, there has been a record of 24,356,180 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection globally with a mortality rate of 830,134 globally. This data shows that more people have died globally of COVID-19 within the last nine month than from malaria in the year 2017 and 2018. This shows that despite the fact that hundreds of million people had malaria in the years 2017 and 2018, the disease did not kill people as much as this novel virus that has infected fewer people compared to malaria but killed double the number killed by malaria in a given year. Hence, the mortality rate shows the novelty of the virus and its lethal nature.

Fourth, vulnerability to both diseases. While children aged under five years are the most vulnerable group affected by malaria, WHO on March 11, 2020 published a report tagged ‘’Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) situation report-51” showing that adults aged sixty and above and people of any age with underlying medical conditions (such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and cancer) are the most vulnerable to coronavirus. In the year 2018, children under age five accounted for 67% (272,000) of all Malaria deaths worldwide, whereas coronavirus has caused most severe health issues for adults over the age of 60, with particularly fatal results for those 80 years and above.

Fifth, their preventive measures.  Malaria since time immemorial has been controllable by keeping a neat environment, such as through Indoor residual spraying (IRS), Intermittent preventive treatment in pregnancy (IPTp), Seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) and the use of mosquito nets or repellents. It is as easy as that. But for coronavirus, there is more to its prevention because the virus is airborne. The preventions range  from staying indoor so as not to get infected to the use of face masks in public places (and face shield if so desired) in addition to making sure that physical distancing protocols are obeyed. Not ending there, a conscious effort to properly and religiously wash our hands with soap and water is a must because of the risk of touching  surfaces that host the coronavirus pathogen. The process of preventing coronavirus is more tasking  than that of preventing malaria. A clean and neat environment is naturally good for health in keeping with the saying, ‘’cleanliness is next to godliness.’’

Sixth, their treatments and the availability for treatment. According to WHO published reports, Malaria is a preventable and treatable disease. Drugs used over time for this include artemether/lumefantrine; atovaquone/proguanil; mefloquine; hydroxychloroquine systemic; and chloroquine, among others. The primary objective of treatment is to ensure complete cure, that is, the rapid and full elimination of the Plasmodium Parasite from the patient’s blood in order to prevent progression of uncomplicated malaria to severe disease or death, and to chronic infection that leads to malaria-related anemia. Management of severe malaria comprises mainly clinical assessment of the patient, specific antimalarial treatment, additional treatment and supportive care. But up till now, there is no known cure for Coronavirus disease, whereas the treatment for malaria is well known. A good percentage of the COVID- 19 recovered cases were treated based on the symptoms they presented.  According to the Commissioner for Health in Lagos State, in Nigeria most of those infected recovered because their immunity was high; while WHO emphasized the impacts of antibodies to the virus . So personal immunity plays a role in curing COVID- 19, which does not happen with malaria.

Conclusively, it is clear that malaria and COVID- 19 are two different diseases, and the differences can be seen in their causative organisms, presenting symptoms, mortality rates, rate of vulnerability to them, their preventive measures, and treatments. Therefore, it is clear that COVID- 19 is not malaria and is real, and everyone needs to do all that is necessary to stay safe from it.

The researcher produced this fact-check per the Dubawa 2020 Fellowship partnership with the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State, to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in Journalism and enhance Media Literacy in the Country.

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