Study Finds Malaria Parasites Protect Against Severe Forms of COVID-19

Findings from the studies show that 30.2 per cent of the patients who were not infected with malaria developed severe forms of COVID-19 with 3.8 percent succumbing to the disease.
Plasmodium Falciparum Parasites

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Ugandans who are infected with both COVID-19 and malaria have lower chances of getting severe forms of COVID-19 or even dying, according to a prospective study carried out by the Malaria Consortium, UK.

The study which aimed at identifying the impact of malaria infections on COVID-19 outcomes took place from April to October last year.  

A total of 597 confirmed COVID-19 patients took part in the study last year between April and October. The participants were tested for malaria parasites from eight hospitals that were COVID-19 treatment facilities across the country. The health facilities included regional referral hospitals in; Arua, Gulu, Lira, Jinja, Entebbe and Masaka.  Bombo Military hospital and Mulago National Referral Hospital were also included in the study. 


As part of the study, all participants had to have had positive COVID-19 PCR tests. They also all underwent malaria diagnostic tests using RDT, microscopies, and PCR. The majority of the participants were aged 21-40 years of age and were truck drivers.

Findings show that patients who were infected with both COVID-19 and malaria caused by the plasmodium falciparum parasite developed milder forms of COVID-19 and did not succumb to the disease compared to other participants only infected with COVID-19.

Dr Jane Achan, from the Malaria Control Programme and also an investigator on the study, says 30.2 percent of the participants who were not infected with malaria suffered from more severe forms of COVID-19 with 3.8 percent of them succumbing to COVID-19 unlike those infected with malaria.

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Dr Achan says the results among people who were not infected with COVID-19 were not dependent on whether they suffered from a comorbidity or not.

" We know that comorbidities modify the outcome of patients with COVID-19 but we found that people with low previous malaria exposure impacted clinical outcomes whether they had comorbidities or not," she said.

While they might have presented with milder forms of the disease, Dr Achan says patients infected with malaria developed confusion and vomiting as a result of being infected with both disease. She says 5.7 per cent of them exhibited these symptoms compared to their counterparts who were not infected with malaria.

The study also showed that the prevalence of malaria among persons who tested positive for COVID-19 was high at 11.7 percent compared to the national figures which stand at 9 percent. The highest burden of malaria was reported among the 0-20 age group and those aged above 60 years.

While the correlation between malaria and COVID-19 infections remains unknown, Achan says the findings might explain why countries such as Uganda where malaria in endemic might be reporting fewer cases of COVID-19 compared to developed countries.

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Uganda is one of the countries in the world that reports over 10 million malaria infections annually.  According to the 2019 World Malaria Report published by the World Health Organisation, 14 million malaria infections and 12, 270 deaths were reported in the country that year. To date, only 41,575 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Uganda. On the African continent, the figure stands at 4,513,248 cases out of 144,878,978 cases globally.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the low number of cases of COVID-19 in Africa compared to the rest of the world was attribute to high weather temperatures found in many countries. Others attribute it to DNA.