Charity Ruzvidzo Post Correspondent
ZIMBABWE is geared to deal with malaria outbreaks which are most likely to increase this year due to high rainfall patterns, national malaria control programme director, Dr Joseph Mberikunashe, has said.
He said the malaria season which begins from mid-February to May is most likely to witness a high number of malaria cases.
“The malaria season has begun and we are expecting an increase in the number of malaria cases following the high rains received this year. This has increased mosquito breeding points. However, we are adequately prepared to deal with any outbreaks,” said Dr Mberikunashe.
According to data from the Ministry of Health and Child Care’s Malaria Department, for the past 15 years malaria incidence rates have declined significantly.
Malaria incidences refers to the number of new cases of malaria per 1 000 people each year.
The incidence rate in the year 2000 stood at 136 malaria cases per 1000 population and the number has since decreased to 29 malaria cases per 1 000 population in 2015.
The year 2011 recorded a malaria incidence rate at 25 cases, in 2012 it was at 22 cases and in 2013 the malaria incidence rate was at 29 cases per 1 000 population.
In 2014 the incidence rate was at 39 cases and in 2015 the rate had decreased to 29 cases per 1000 population, surpassing the Millennium Development Goals set target of 75 percent decline.
Zimbabwe along with other African countries was part of the Roll Back Malaria Abuja treaty which called for reduction in malaria cases.
Dr Mberikunashe said measures taken by the Government to fight the disease contributed towards the decrease in malaria incidence rates.
“We have managed to provide people, especially those in areas where malaria is high, with mosquito nets and repellents. The Government has also managed to teach people on how best to protect themselves against mosquitoes,” he said.
Malaria is especially a serious problem in Africa, where one in every five childhood deaths is due to the effects of the disease.
Despite the reduction in incidence rates, the number of deaths caused by malaria is still high in the country.
The data shows that in-patient malaria deaths of children below the age of five stood at 52 in 2010 and in 2015 they had increased to 89 deaths.
In-patient malaria deaths of those above the age of five were at 266 in 2010 and in 2015 they had increased to 373 deaths.
Dr Mberikunashe attributed the fluctuations of malaria incidence rates and death cases to various factors.
“Many people have become cross borders due to different socio-economic reasons. Some are travelling to countries where malaria is high and this exposes them to the disease. Also, people still do not value the importance of seeking treatment early, this also leads to deaths,” he said.
The malaria director, however, highlighted elimination work was being done in four provinces.
“We are currently undergoing elimination work in Matabeleland South, Midlands, Matabeleland North and Mashonaland West. Elimination refers to totally wiping out malaria in places where the incidence rates are now very low,” said Dr Mberikunashe.
He said regardless of the progress in curbing malaria, lack of adequate funding was affecting the fight against malaria.
“We face financial challenges when dealing with the fight against malaria. Local and global institutes should assist by funding this fight,” said Dr Mberikunashe, adding that people must desist from shying away from treatment.
“For us to effectively stop malaria we have to work together. People must ensure they seek assistance as soon as they suspect they may be suffering from malaria. This way we will be able to cure it and prevent deaths.”
He said it was also pivotal during this rainy season for people to take extra precautionary measures in preventing mosquito bites.
“The rainy season increases the breeding areas for mosquitoes. It is very essential that people increase their guard against mosquito bites. Even when travelling they must carry their repellents,” said Dr Mberikunashe.
The primary malaria zones in Zimbabwe are in the northern and eastern regions bordering Mozambique and Zambia.
Malaria is a disease caused by infection with the parasite of the genus plasmodium.
This occurs when one is bitten by an infected female anopheles mosquito. Zimbabwe is with the species plasmodium falciparum.
There are other species of parasites that are not common in this country such as plasmodium vivax, malariae and ovale.
These infections may be acquired if one travels to countries where these parasites are found.
Malaria is a major public health problem in Zimbabwe with about 50 percent of the population staying in malaria transmission areas.
It is also the fifth biggest cause of death among pregnant women. The infection is associated with anaemia and other illness in the mother and contributes to low birth weight among newborn infants.
This has become one of the leading risk factors for infant mortality and sub optimal growth and development.
Health experts say signs and symptoms of malaria are not specific and can sometimes be mistaken for other diseases.
However, typical malaria symptoms include sudden onset of high fever with rigors and sensation of extreme colds followed by feeling of burning, leading to profuse sweating and remission of fever by crisis thereafter.
It is important that a blood test is made to be sure what the patient is suffering from.
The experts also say it is vital that treatment starts within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms, to prevent progression to severe malaria or death.
The disease has serious negative effects on economic growth as it is associated with absenteeism from work and school. Agricultural productivity and tourism growth is hindered as malaria deters tourists.
Zimbabwe has engaged other countries from the Sadc region in trans-frontier collaborative efforts to contain the disease.
As the fight continues, it is essential to remember that malaria is preventable and curable. – Zimpapers Syndication.