Every year, 400,000 people die of malaria worldwide and 67% are children. Even today, this disease is the leading cause of hospitalization of children in some countries. Since 2017, Order of Malta France has been running the paediatric department in its Jean-Baptiste Hospital in Ivory Coast, which has quickly become a regional reference point for children. “During the peak period, which occurs with the rainy season, we can have up to ten severe cases a day requiring hospitalization or even intensive care”, explains Dr Ouattara, head of the hospital’s mother-and-child unit and paediatric department. “Parents often come to health centres late, making malaria the third cause of death in Saint Jean Baptiste hospital. The mother is often alone, without any decision-making power or financial or travelling means,” says the doctor.
In Ivory Coast, as in many African countries, self-medication and “traditional therapy” are still widely practised. Patients are at risk of septic shock, severe pneumonia, meningitis or severe dehydration. “The delay in seeking treatment usually results in longer and more expensive treatment for parents,” Dr Ouattara continues.
Effects of the Pandemic
Between 2017 and 2020, the malaria mortality rate decreased by almost 50% in Ivory Coast. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 crisis has considerably slowed down this dynamic. “Travel restrictions, fear of contamination in public spaces and in health facilities have limited both prevention and consultation, and therefore access to treatment,” explains Dr Ouattara. “This can be clearly seen in our hospital, where we’ve performed almost 2,000 fewer screening tests than in 2019!”
Furthermore, mosquitoes are increasingly resistant to insecticides and parasites to some antimalarials, which complicates the prevention and management of malaria.
Despite progress in the medical field, Dr Ouattara is trying to raise awareness and prevention, as well as facilitating access to treatment for the most vulnerable, children and pregnant women, both financially and geographically.
Albeit there is still a long way to go, the news is encouraging. The World Health Organization estimates that ten countries are now free from endemic malaria. A goal to be pursued for Ivory Coast and the Saint Jean-Baptiste hospital.