Guinea: The Challenge of Malaria Control in a Post-Ebola Context

The preliminary 2018 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data have been released for Guinea (Conakry). Since the last DHS in 2012, Guinea and its neighbors experienced the largest Ebola outbreak in history, an event that damaged already weak health systems.

The previous DHS showed very weak malaria indicators. Only 47% of households had at least one ITN, which averages to 0.8 ITNs per person (compared to the universal coverage of 2.0). Among vulnerable groups only 26% of children below the age of 5 years slept under an ITN, as did 28% of pregnant women. Very few, 18%, pregnant women got two doses of IPTp, and only 5% of febrile children received ACTs (testing was not reported then).

Not much has changed concerning ITN coverage as reported in 2018. Slight improvements are seen in IPTp (which now requires 3 or more doses) and malaria testing and treatment for children. Ironically none of the indicators has passed the original 2006 Roll Back Malaria target of 60%, let alone 80% for 2010 and not of course the drive for universal coverage.

DHS has released a preliminary report for 2018 and the malaria component is summarized in the charts posted here. The national coverage for ITNs is 44%, slightly lower than 2012, but the average per household member is slightly higher at 1.1. Again, these numbers do not mark significant progress. Looking at wealth and ITN ownership there is a slight benefit in terms of equity in net possession among those with lower income, but this must be seen in the overall context of very low basic coverage.

Having a net in the household and using it are different challenges as seen in the reports of sleeping under the net on the night prior to the survey among children under 5 years of age and pregnant women. The sad finding is that even in households that own a net, the coverage of these two groups remains very low. This is reflected in the low net per person ratio nationally (1.1).

One would almost wonder if malaria is a neglected disease in Guinea. The reality is that since 2003, Guinea has received around $172 million US dollars in malaria project funding from the Global Fund. Its most recent annual funding from the US President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) is around $14 million.  Of that PMI funding 24% was designated for nets and related activities, while 52% was to be spent on medicines, diagnostics and pharmaceutical management. These investments include systems strengthening and capacity building in addition to commodities.

PMI provides the needed context: “Since the country was declared Ebola-free in in June of 2016, Guinea continues to make positive advances towards building a strong health system in line with the health recovery plan. The government continues to mobilize internal and external resources for rolling out the health system recovery plan, but much remains to be done if this plan is to yield the intended results.” Areas in particular need of strengthening within the National Malaria Control Program include coordination, health information systems, leadership, supervision and logistics.

Three years have passed since the last Ebola case in Guinea. Hopefully the country can stave off another outbreak and at the same time strengthen its health system. Guinea may not yet be targeted for malaria elimination, but until systems are strengthened, the resources going into malaria control will not be able to push malaria indicators toward saving more lives.

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