LONDON, Jan 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Sierra Leone has given anti-malaria drugs to more than 2.5 million people in Ebola-affected areas and significantly reduced the number of patients with fever that might have been mistaken for Ebola, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.
Malaria symptoms - fever, headache, aching joints - are similar to those of Ebola in its early stages, resulting in malaria patients going to Ebola treatment centres, putting pressure on health services and exposing themselves to nfection.
To reduce malaria transmission and deaths, the WHO recommended the mass administration of anti-malarial drugs in Ebola hotspots in the West African country.
"This intervention was done to reduce the number of febrile patients in the community so that people with fever caused by malaria would not be sent to the Ebola holding centres where they would be at risk of contracting Ebola," Daniel Kertesz, WHO representative in Sierra Leone, said in a statement.
Without such pre-emptive action, malaria deaths could potentially double in the country of 5.7 million, the WHO said.
Sierra Leone mobilised 8,330 health workers for the door-to-door distribution in eight districts this month through its national malaria control programme and several aid agencies.
People responded positively to the campaign, with numbers of people wishing to receive anti-malarial medicines higher than expected, the WHO said.
More than 1.7 million people contracted malaria in Sierra Leone last year, resulting in 4,326 deaths, according to WHO data. (Reporting By Astrid Zweynert; Editing by Tim Pearce)