HomeHealthThe fight against malaria continues

The fight against malaria continues

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By Elizabeth Sitotombe

LAST WEEK, the Ministry of Health and Child Care expressed concern over the number of malaria infections and deaths. 

39 people are believed to have lost their lives after contracting the disease following an outbreak which has affected 17 623 people to date, according to a report from the Ministry’s Weekly Disease Surveillance report.

According to the report for the week ending February 19 2023, 2 617 malaria cases and two deaths were reported.

Of the reported cases, 299 were under the age of five.

Last year, the country recorded 151 deaths linked to malaria between January and October. The 2022 cumulative cases of malaria stood at 92 310 as of October 2022.

Manicaland and Mashonaland Provinces recorded the highest number of cases according to the report so far,  With 679 and 673 recorded respectively.

Last year, Mashonaland East and Mashonaland Central provinces recorded the highest numbers.

The malaria report for November 2022 shows that malaria declined from 136 cases per 1 000 population in 2000 to 9 cases per 1 000 in 2021.

Generally the African region carries a disparate high share of the global malaria burden. 

In 2021, the region was home to 95 percent of malaria cases and 96 percent of malaria deaths. Children under five accounted for 80 percent of all deaths in the region according to the WHO.

Malaria is a major health problem in Zimbabwe, with close to half the population at risk.

The risk of contracting malaria is high, but it is at its peak from November to June. The risk of malaria in Zimbabwe is lowest in the north-south central region and increases towards the country’s borders with Mozambique and Zambia.

Zimbabwe has made good progress in reducing malaria incidence as compared to levels recorded years back — malaria deaths have declined greatly. 

Malaria occurs when one is bitten by an infected female anopheles mosquito; the most common infection in Zimbabwe is with the species plasmodium falciparum which accounts for 98 percent of all reported malaria cases. 

Zimbabwe uses malaria control and elimination strategies certified by WHO.

The Ministry of Health and Childcare indoor residual spraying (IRS) is targeting districts with high malaria transmission and so far 25 districts have been fumigated as part of efforts to avert malaria cases.

Management of breeding sites and continued malaria surveillance is ongoing.

Malaria is curable if diagnosed and treated promptly and correctly.

Members of the public are being urged to report for early testing and treatment to curb the risk of developing severe malaria and help break the chain of malaria treatment.

Late presentation has been fingered as the cause of death for some of the cases. People with underlying conditions are urged to report early, said the Ministry.

Testing and treatment for malaria is free and can be accessed from village health workers and local health facilities.

Community-based health workers have been trained on how to recognise signs and symptoms of malaria.

Common symptoms of malaria may include:

  •     fever
  • chills
  • sweats
  • headaches
  • nausea and vomiting
  • body aches
  • diarrhoea
  • general feeling of discomfort
  • cough
  • rapid breathing and
  • rapid heart rate

Malaria signs and symptoms normally begin within a few weeks after being bitten by the infected mosquito; however, some types of malaria parasites can lie dormant in your body for close to a year.

Some people who have malaria experience cycles of malaria attacks. An attack usually starts with shivering and chills, followed by a high fever, followed by sweating and a return to normal temperature.

Pregnant women can infect their unborn children, sharing needles used to inject drugs as well as blood transfusions — these modes of transmission can take place because the parasites that cause malaria affect red blood cells, and hence people can catch malaria from exposure to infected blood.

During this period, where chances of getting malaria are high, it is important to sleep under a mosquito net, covering your skin by wearing pants and long-sleeved shirts. Use mosquito repellent as well; these can be found in pharmacies or supermarkets.

A nursing mother sleeping with her baby under an insecticide-treated net.

The WHO Global technical strategy for malaria provides a technical framework for all malaria–endemic countries. It guides and supports regional and country programmes as they work towards malaria control and elimination while seeking to reduce malaria case incidence by at least 90 percent by 2030 as well as reduce malaria mortality rates by at least 90 percent by 2030 and prevent resurgence of malaria in all countries that are malaria free.

Indeed, it is possible to become a malaria-free country; since 2015, nine countries have been certified as malaria-free by WHO. These include Algeria (2019), Argentina (2019), China (2021) and El Salvador (2021), among others.

Zimbabwe can win the fight against malaria too.

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