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Combating Malaria During Covid-19 Era

Despite national efforts to curb the incidence of malaria, the disease continues to be a major public health concern in Ghana.  In 2019, the country recorded approximately 12 million suspected cases representing 42.8% of OPD cases and about 22.2% of total hospital admission. The National Malaria Control Program (NMCP) which has oversight responsibility over malaria control in Ghana reviewed its operation and developed a new Malaria Strategic Plan (MSP) for the period 2020 to 2024. The MSP acknowledges the enormous burden of malaria to national development and embraces a wholistic approach involving the private sector to contribute towards malaria eradication efforts. The battle against malaria is having another twist as COVID-19 is watering down national efforts. COVID-19 has similar symptoms as that of early stages of malaria infection. COVID-19 is also creating barriers to health seeking behavior. Pregnant women don’t feel safe going for anti-natal services as it is perceived catching the virus from the health facility environment. 

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AngloGold Ashanti, a private mining company, has been contributing to reducing malaria burden not only among its workers but extends this intervention to 16 districts protecting about 1.3 million people in Ghana. The mining giant established AngloGold Ashanti Malaria Control (AGAMal) – a center of excellence in malaria vector control in 2006. AGAMal with support from both AngloGold Ashanti and The Global Fund to combat HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, and in private-public partnership with Ghana Health Service (GHS) is implementing indoor residual spraying to control malaria vector, the mosquito, in selected districts and Ghana Prison Service camps. The program has recorded some remarkable successes. The Upper West region of Ghana has 11 districts has recorded a decline in malaria incidence from 51% in 2010 to 11% in 2019 (MIS, 2019). Malaria prevalence in Obuasi, where the mine is situated has been consistently been below 6% for the past 4 years. 

COVID-19 initially posed a threat to malaria intervention. AGAMal had started its annual IRS operation when Ghana recorded its first COVID-19 case. The IRS operation was then placed on hold for three weeks to prevent community spread and also review operational methodologies. AGAMal reviewed its operational protocols and increased infection prevention mechanisms to ensure safety of workers and households. Operations later resumed ensuring that malaria successes recorded does not get derailed.

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The private-public-partnership between AngloGold Ashanti and Ghana Health service is not only limited to malaria intervention. During this COVID-19 period, AGAMal is disseminating essential COVID-19 education among community members, provision of nose mask, sanitizers, hand-washing stations with soaps among other things. As part of efforts in reducing the spread of COVID-19, Isolation Centers were created and furnished to accommodate, treat and feed community members who are not able to quarantine themselves in their homes. Furthermore, infection prevention protocols were established and supported in all health facilities (both private and public) in our operational areas. These COVID-19 intervention has been helpful as the communities did not record overwhelming numbers of COVID patients. The daily disinfection of these health facilities boosted the confidence of community members accessing health care from these health facilities.  

By Samuel Aseidi (Director of Anglo-Gold Ashanti’s malaria control programme)