June 23, 2017
HARARE, ZIMBABWE — Heavy rainfall in Zimbabwe this year has caused an increase in malaria cases.
As of May 28, confirmed deaths from malaria numbered 338 and another 281,387 confirmed cases were reported by Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Care.
With half of 2017 not yet over and a tally of 338 deaths due to malaria already, the infection rate is concerning, says Dr. Joseph Mberikunashe, the national malaria manager for Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Care. He says health facilities nationwide are being further equipped with malaria medicines and test kits, with larger quantities going to village health workers to treat malaria in the communities hardest hit.
Mberikunashe notes the country has experienced declining rates of malaria over the last decade and also since the last outbreak occurred in 2014. That year the World Health Organization reported 406 confirmed reported deaths in Zimbabwe from malaria, but noted that reported confirmed deaths usually are much lower than actual deaths caused by the disease.
Mberikunashe attributes the higher than usual malaria reported incidences so far in 2017 to heavy rainfall from mid-February through March, especially in areas affected by flooding and displacement. Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.
Provinces most affected are Manicaland, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central and Masvingo. Mberikunashe says these provinces account for 94.7 percent of the malaria infections.
Medical assistance is not easily accessible to people living in communities that were affected by the floods, he says. “In some areas where bridges have been washed away, communities have had to walk long distances to access treatment,” Mberikunashe says.
He adds that community health workers trained to test and treat malaria are providing treatment in these communities. In addition, long lasting insecticidal nets were distributed to displaced communities and the Ministry of Health and Child Care is mobilizing larvicides to treat mosquito breeding sites, he says.
Dr. Evans Masitara, Secretary General for Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, advises Zimbabweans to be extra cautious especially when visiting malaria-prone areas.
“People must ensure that they take drugs which prevent them from malaria infection when visiting areas that are malaria infested and should make sure that they use sprayed mosquito nets at all times,” he says.
Masitara says people should quickly seek medical attention if they suspect that they have malaria. Malaria symptoms include fever, vomiting, sweating and headaches.
Mberikunashe highlights that communities in areas prone to malaria should ensure that they protect themselves from mosquito bites by sleeping under a long-lasting insecticidal net and spraying insecticides that kill mosquitos in their houses.
“Pregnant women in areas of moderate and high malaria transmission should book early for antenatal care and receive medicines to prevent malaria during pregnancy,” says Dr. Mberikunashe.
Malaria is one of the most prevalent causes of sickness and death in Zimbabwe and nearly 50 percent of the population lives in malaria-prone areas, according to a 2016 research article published by International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Concerted efforts have been made to prevent its spread.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a partnership between governments, civil society, the private sector and people affected by the diseases, reports that it has distributed about $42.3 million to Zimbabwe to fight malaria since 2015, with its latest distribution – some $406,510 – made on April 27.
In 2015, Africa accounted for 90 percent of malaria cases and 92 percent of the world’s malaria deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
Gamuchirai Masiyiwa, GPJ, translated some interviews from Shona