Paris (AFP) - The collapse of health services in three west African countries devastated by Ebola may have caused some 11,000 additional deaths from malaria, a preventable and curable disease, researchers said Friday.
A further 3,900 deaths may have resulted from interruptions in the delivery of insecticide-treated bed nets, according to outbreak modelling data published in The Lancet on the eve of World Malaria Day.
This suggested the haemorrhagic fever outbreak "could have resulted in a comparable number of malaria deaths as those due to Ebola itself," said a statement issued by the medical journal.
"The ongoing Ebola epidemic in parts of West Africa largely overwhelmed already fragile healthcare systems in 2014 making adequate care for malaria impossible," said Patrick Walker from Imperial College London, the lead author of the study.
Walker and a team analysed demographic and health survey data for malaria prevention and care from 2000 to March 2014 in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
They "removed" the effect of treatment and hospital care to estimate the potential impact.
The worst-case scenario, assuming the Ebola epidemic stopped all malaria care, yielded a 45-percent increase (1.6 million) in malaria cases in Guinea, 88 percent (1.3 million) in Sierra Leone, and 140 percent (520,000 cases) in Liberia in 2014.
An absence of clinic and hospital care would have resulted in some 5,600 deaths in Guinea, 3,900 in Sierra Leone and 1,500 in Liberia, the team estimated.
Lapses in delivery of mosquito nets could have led to another 840,000 cases.
"Our predictions highlight the true magnitude of the humanitarian impact caused by the Ebola epidemic," said Walker.
"In heavily-affected Ebola areas, the indirect impact of Ebola upon malaria deaths is likely to be of a similar magnitude to the public health burden caused by Ebola directly."
Last month, researchers cautioned about a likely surge of measles and other diseases due to interrupted vaccination campaigns in the three countries, which may culminate in a new public health emergency.
The World Health Organization says more than 26,000 people have been infected with Ebola since the outbreak began late 2013, and more than 10,800 have died.