Global health security is more than pandemic preparedness — it includes protection from the epidemics the world is already facing, like malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis. COVID-19 has shown us that investing in malaria prevention, detection, and treatment can also lead to huge payoffs in pandemic preparedness. Strengthening health systems and supply chains, and investing in community care including front-line workers, can help control — and potentially eliminate — malaria, while at the same time bolstering our ability to detect and control the next major disease outbreak.

For much of the world, efforts to combat COVID-19 and malaria are inseparable. The pandemic has posed a major threat to the delivery of malaria services because of supply chain disruptions, fewer people seeking care due to fear of getting COVID-19, overwhelmed health systems, and risks to the health and safety of front-line health workers.

Further complicating the problem, COVID-19 shares seven of 10 most common symptoms with malaria — including fever — making it difficult for patients and health workers to identify and properly treat these diseases. A health system that is already overwhelmed by malaria is ill-equipped to detect and deal with a surge of sick patients when a new outbreak emerges. Because of this, malaria hot spots are also blind spots for the next disease with pandemic potential, especially in communities whose basic health care is poor and whose disease surveillance is weak. As COVID-19 has shown us, an isolated outbreak can become a global pandemic in a matter of weeks.

However, for countries with weak surveillance systems, a patient with malaria symptoms can often be an entry point for them into health care systems, enabling potential outbreak detection and rapid response. Malaria investments help scale up cost-effective ways to prevent and identify fevers, as well as the ability to diagnose, treat, and trace the source of infection to break transmission — all core components that a good malaria program and an effective pandemic response have in common.

In fact, health systems built through investments in malaria programs since 2000 have been repurposed to effectively deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes training tens of thousands of health care workers to conduct early diagnosis and treatment of people with fevers, building and digitizing data systems to improve real-time surveillance of infectious diseases, improving availability of effective medicines and medical equipment, and building laboratory capacity in countries where malaria is occurring.

Read the full article about investing in Malaria by Tara Bracken at United Nations Foundation.