Is Zimbabwe on track to combat malaria?

Locadia Mavhudzi, CNS Correspondent, Zimbabwe
At the turn of the millennium, Zimbabwe recorded an estimated 2 million cases of malaria per year, ranking as one of the countries with the highest incidence rate of the disease. The country has since stepped up efforts to eradicate the disease, with over three million insecticide treated mosquito nets having been distributed to households in all of the country’s 47 malaria prone districts.

This comes against a backdrop of a significant decrease in the number of malaria cases recorded so far this year compared to the same period during the last two years. Program manager of the malaria control unit in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Joseph Mberikunashe said that his department had intensified malaria prevention exercises in line with African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) goal of eradicating malaria by 2030.

Dr Mberikunashe attributed the significant decrease in malaria cases and deaths to a number of factors, including deliberate efforts by the government, in conjunction with its partners, to control the disease.

“We have 47 endemic districts and these are along our borders, and that is where our interventions are concentrated, particularly areas near the Mozambican border. We have introduced a new insecticide in areas where the mosquito was starting to be resistant to the insecticide that we were using earlier. That has helped in a big way in reducing the number of cases”, he informed.

Of note is Gokwe North district, in the midlands province, which is a low lying area affected by climatic changes, experiencing perennial flooding and droughts. Midlands Provincial Medical Director, Dr Simon Nyadundu said that a new insecticide has been introduced for managing vector resistance in this malaria prone district. They have discontinued the traditional use of dichloro diphenyl trichloroethane (DDT) for indoor residual spraying for malaria prevention in Gokwe north, and introduced new organophosphates to curb insecticide resistance.

“This year, only Gokwe north will be spraying organophosphates, which heralds a change of chemicals to manage vector resistance. The indoor residual spraying program is ongoing in Gokwe north, Gokwe south, Kwekwe and Mberengwa which are the most vulnerable districts in the province”, he said.

Drug administration to all pregnant women to avoid them from getting malaria is also ongoing in Gokwe north. In addition, they are also distributing long lasting insecticide treated mosquito nets in all vulnerable districts, especially targeting pregnant women.

“In terms of prevention interventions, we are distributing treated nets in all antenatal clinics for free. We are also giving the nets to households and urging villagers to use the nets for malaria control only, as we have had reports about some people who are using the nets for fishing purposes. We are also conducting health education sessions and awareness campaigns in the community to empower the community on malaria investigations”, he informed.

Dr Nyadundu said malaria is prevalent in low lying areas in Gokwe and the ministry is doing entomological surveillance in the area.

“Entomogical surveillance is whereby there is a search for the source of infection – looking for breeding sites for mosquitoes. The water bodies are searched for any vector mosquitoes and their densities. The species found during vector search are sent to the Institute of Health Research for further identification”, he said.

Meanwhile, medical analysts feel that more needs to be done to eradicate malaria in the African continent. Investing in research has been cited as a missing link in terms of modern approach for malaria control interventions.

“Eliminating malaria requires greater ingenuity in national program implementation, innovative health technologies – such as new medicines and insecticides – and approaches that unite diverse sectors and national efforts” notes Dr Effie Espino, Director, Asia Pacific Malaria Elimination Network (APMEN).

The World Health Organisation (WHO)’s World Malaria Report 2017 signalled that, for the first time in more than a decade, progress against malaria in the African continent, which accounts for almost 90% of the global malaria burden, has stalled. Malaria, a treatable and preventable disease, already costs the African continent’s economy $12 billion per year in direct losses, and 1.3% of lost annual GDP growth.

Locadia Mavhudzi, Citizen News Service - CNS
May 3, 2018