Elly Burhaini Faizal, Staff Writer, in The Jakarta Post (October 13, 2020)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Oberholster Venita/Pixabay)
Transmission of Covid-19 in Indonesia has continued unabated and expanded to malaria-endemic areas, especially the country’s eastern provinces, such as East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), Maluku and Papua, forcing authorities there to step up vigilance to prevent a double burden of disease. Plasmodium – a parasite that causes malaria in humans – can damage the immune system, which is why malaria patients are prone to other infections, including Covid-19. Health Ministry data in April revealed an upward trend of malaria incidences in Indonesia and an increasing number of high-malaria areas.
It will take more time and effort to combat the vector-borne disease because the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has laid a heavy burden on the healthcare system. With all attention and resources centered on Covid-19, the question is: Can Indonesia succeed in achieving its malaria elimination goal by 2030? There was a significant decrease in malaria cases from 2010 to 2014, according to Annual Parasite Incidence (API) data. But from 2014 to 2019, the control gains seemed to stagnate. Progress toward malaria control targets has stalled in some provinces, such as Papua, where a rise in the number of incidences has been reported. The high malaria incidence in some areas is a cause for concern particularly because there is no end in sight for the Covid-19 crisis.
Covid-19 poses a huge challenge to the malaria control and prevention program. Many health workers feared they would contract Covid-19 if they carried on with their field work. Similarly, the general public are reluctant to seek out health services for the same reason. Movement restrictions placed by authorities to curb the spread of Covid-19 had in fact affected the mass distribution of long-lasting insecticide bed nets, leaving the majority of at-risk communities unprotected from mosquito bites and increased transmission. Early and ongoing border restrictions between countries had resulted in disruptions to supply chains and raw material shortages, which later affected access to drugs and diagnostic tests for malaria.
With just only one decade left for the Asia-Pacific to achieve its malaria elimination goal, countries may need to take “unprecedented” measures to ensure malaria services such as case finding and disease treatment can continue running.