Malaria, which is still one of the main health problems in the country, especially in eastern Indonesia, is not yet over. In 2020, Indonesia and the rest of the world will be faced with COVID-19 pandemic which spreads much faster than malaria. The infection of the COVID-19 virus has spread to malaria endemic areas, such as East Nusa Tenggara, Maluku and Papua. Unfortunately, the symptoms of COVID-19 are also similar to those of malaria, which have delayed the diagnosis of malaria and medical treatment in malaria endemic areas.
The spread of COVID-19 affects the activities to prevent other diseases, one of them being malaria. Malaria could worsen the condition of a person who is also infected with COVID-19; vice versa. The symptoms of both diseases are similar which makes it difficult for health workers to enforce the diagnosis of the patients in malaria endemic areas. Patients with common symptoms such as fever, and detected positive for COVID-19 could easily pass the malaria diagnosis. People with common symptoms of malaria can also be delayed by medical assistance due to fear of being infected with COVID-19, which brings a certain stigma where they could potentially be excluded from social life.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, malaria examination was carried out through a Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT). The diagnostic procedure from the Ministry of Health begins by finding out whether the patient has a history of malaria or COVID-19, such as contact with a patient who has tested positive for COVID-19, or has traveled or lived in malaria endemic areas. Patients also have to go through laboratory tests for COVID-19 and RDT at once.
If the RDT result is positive, the patient will be immediately treated with the Antimalarial Drugs. Blood specimens were also made to ensure the results of RDT and the treatment.
On the other hand, health workers in providing medical services for malaria are required to follow COVID-19 prevention protocols, such as maintaining physical distance, wearing masks and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), and washing hands regularly with running water and soap.
The government strives to provide medical services for malaria according to the health protocol and continues to urge people in malaria endemic areas to take preventive measures.
How do you tell the difference between malaria and COVID-19?
Malaria usually comes with symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle aches, anemia, cold sweat, diarrhea, dehydration, nausea and vomiting, and potentially a blood pressure drop. Meanwhile, COVID-19 also has similar symptoms, such as fever, headache, pain, fever, dry coughs.
As a whole, they have different symptoms, but they still share similar common symptoms such as fever and muscle pain. These similarities will make it difficult to differentiate the diseases at the beginning, thus leading to a delay in the diagnosis.
One study in China conducted by Benyun Shi and Jinxin Zheng, shows that if the identification of COVID-19 is done in advance, it can reduce the impact of COVID-19 on malaria potential patients.
According to the co-founder of Goodbye Malaria, Sherwin Charles, treating the more urgent disease will be a more effective action. Charles argues that malaria could potentially be more urgent and needs to be treated immediately. However, prioritizing malaria treatment does not necessarily mean ignoring the COVID-19 health protocol. It is only that healing is prioritized for diseases that are more pressing or fatal.
So, people living in malaria endemic areas are required not to ignore the symptoms of malaria or COVID-19. Although COVID-19 spreads more widely in a short time, ignoring the symptoms of malaria can also have fatal consequences. This is because the drugs and procedures for the two deadly diseases are different.