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With all eyes on Ebola, efforts to control malaria could fail

The gains being made in the fight against malaria in West Africa could be erased due to the Ebola outbreak, a doctor from the Roll Back Malaria Partnership warns.

Three of the countries devastated by Ebola — Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia — saw a combined 7,000 deaths from malaria in 2012, with many of those victims small children. "These countries have previously been really hit by malaria," Dr. Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré told the BBC. "We all agree that no child should die from malaria, because we have the tools to prevent and treat it. But now, understandably, all the health workers' attention is on Ebola."

Nafo-Traoré is worried that hospital wards that once cared for children with malaria are empty not because there aren't any cases, but because all of the medical workers are treating Ebola. Early symptoms of Ebola and malaria are the same, so people who are receiving aid are being treated with anti-malarial drugs, but "at the moment when people have fevers, they are often afraid to go to health-care facilities because they want to avoid being held in the Ebola treatment centers."

Locals are suspicious of of health workers, Nafo-Traoré said, and "there's still a feeling it's them who are bringing the virus to people." Nafo-Traoré says she does feel some relief after seeing checkpoints on her way to Guinea from Sierra Leone where people were washing their hands and having their temperatures taken. "It's important to have a coordinated approach," she said. "A key aim is to decrease cases of malaria-related fever, so the Ebola centers don't get overwhelmed."