Rising oil prices are driving up the cost of mosquito nets produced using materials derived from crude oil, and orders are held up on the season account of the global shipping and logistics challenges arising from COVID-19. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and its partners say this is fuelling malaria cases across Nigeria and the African continent.
This situation has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted malaria services and driven attention and resources away from malaria and other diseases, leading to increase in cases and deaths.
Modelling analysis conducted by WHO and its partners has predicted that the number of deaths due to malaria could double in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) due to disruption in the accessibility of anti-malarial commodities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to WHO’s latest World Malaria report, there were an estimated 241 million malaria cases and 627,000 malaria deaths worldwide in 2020. This represents about 14 million more cases in 2020 compared with 2019 and 69,000 more deaths.
Approximately, two-thirds of these additional deaths (47,000) were linked to disruptions in the provision of malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment during the pandemic.
In comparison, there have been at least 8,887,000 reported infections and 224,000 reported deaths caused by the novel coronavirus in Africa so far.
Now, malaria programmes have the potential of taking a strong hit from the delays stemming from global logistics and shipping challenges and from the increasing costs of malaria commodities and shipping, warns Vestergaard, the world’s leading bed net manufacturer, with about 1 billion bed nets produced, of which over 80 million have been shipped to Nigeria.
The delays and increased costs stem from a rapid rebound of the US economy following the COVID-19 induced slow-down of business activities. Specifically, the increasing costs of commodities are related to the increase of oil prices and other key raw materials for the manufacturing of these commodities.
Michael Joos, CEO of Vestergaard, told BusinesDay in an interview that these cost increases have the potential to slow down the uptake of more effective and innovative technologies and chemicals against insecticide resistance and decrease coverage of populations at risk with life-saving bed nets.
On the other hand, if the adjustment of prices of key health commodities to reflect rising costs is prevented, this could result in supply disruptions, jeopardise the health of the market and investments in innovation, the company said in a recent release, he says.
“We’ve had over a million people die from malaria 15 years ago, at the turn of the century; we are down to about 400,000 people dying every year. Millions of people have been saved because of the overall malaria interventions, but since 2015, there has been a slowdown and it is getting worse,” he notes.
In the past six years, rising malaria cases were rising due to insecticide resistance, as the mosquitoes are getting more resistant to the insecticides used in the bed nets, and in recent times, COVID-19 related supply chain disruptions, rising oil prices are complicating the problem.
Crude oil is the key material in the production of Polyethylene-Based Long Lasting Treated Bed Net. Polyethylene is a thermoplastic polymer with a variable crystalline structure and a vast range of applications, depending on the type.
“We have subsequently seen a doubling of the raw material costs of the basic of the key raw materials, and an up to 10-fold increase of the cost of shipping of these bed nets,” he states.
Donor agencies and global funds like UNICEF, President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), who used to support malaria and other diseases in Africa, are struggling to get funding at the moment, he says. The funding taps have also ceased to flow as they once did also because much attention has been diverted to COVID-19.
“This is why we are raising the alarm, adding our voice to these other organisations to say, be careful, we can have resurgence in malaria, if we do not adequately fund this cost increase that is there because of materials and shipping,” Joos notes.
The world has spent billions of dollars in the manufacture of vaccines and testing facilities for COVID-19 and have “literally forgotten to talk about the other diseases that also killed hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people,” he states.
In 2019, the US Centres for Disease Control warned that funding for nets and other malaria prevention and control interventions was likely to plateau or even decline in the next few years due to the current economic situation.
According to the US CDC, one way to maintain net coverage is to increase the lifespan of long lasting treated bed nets. It cited a study that estimated that up to $3.8 billion could be saved over 10 years by increasing the lifespan of nets from three years to five years.
Rising malaria cases on the continent do not bode well as it weakens the immune system making it vulnerable for COVID-19. Malaria alone accounts for up 40 percent of out-of-pocket healthcare costs in Africa according to the WHO, and is most responsible for lost productivity.