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Buhari spokesperson gets malaria deaths wrong in coronavirus comment

Sub-Saharan Africa’s first case of Covid-19, the new coronavirus, was confirmed in Nigeria on Thursday 27 February 2020.

Three days later, a senior aide to Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari suggested that coronavirus was less serious than malaria, and quoted a stat to prove it.

This morning’s newspapers, all of them have Coronavirus as the lead cover story,” Garba Shehu, Buhari’s senior special adviser on media and publicity, tweeted on Sunday 1 March.

When will they bring the spotlight to bear on 822 who are killed by malaria everyday in Nigeria?”

Shehu made a similar statement on Facebook.

But does malaria really kill 822 people in Nigeria every day? This would mean more than 290,000 malaria deaths a year.

Malaria death numbers debunked


In September 2019, Africa Check published a fact-check on a claim that “malaria kills an average of 300,000 people yearly in Nigeria”. The claim was in an advert by a health insurance firm. 

The verdict was incorrect.

The firm told Africa Check it got the figure from a years-old factsheet published in 2011 by the US department of state.

But experts said the annual World Malaria Report by the World Health Organization was the most reliable data on malaria for all affected countries, including Nigeria. 

Lower figures in WHO’s malaria report


The 2019 World Malaria Report estimates that there were 405,000 malaria deaths globally in 2018, a decrease from 416,000 deaths in 2017

If 822 people died of malaria every day of 2018, Nigeria would have accounted for 72% of the global malaria death toll for that year. But the country accounted for about 24%.

The report says 95,844 people were killed by malaria in Nigeria in 2018. That’s an average of about 263 malaria deaths a day. 

It also says the death toll in Nigeria could be as low as 80,800 or as high as 117,000. If the upper limit is assumed, Nigeria’s daily malaria death toll would be about 321 – far less than Shehu’s 822.

The WHO’s figures show that Nigeria’s malaria deaths have been on a decline since 2010. Even if he had used figures from 2010, when more Nigerians died from malaria, Shehu’s claim would still have been incorrect.

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