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Cyclone Idai Reverses Zimbabwe Gains in Fight Against Malaria

Testing mosquitos for malaria.
Testing mosquitos for malaria.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains the area hardest hit by malaria, which, despite registering some declines over the years, the battle is far from over, according to the World Health Organization’s latest report, which noted no significant gains between 2015 when declines were registered and 2017.

An estimated 435 000 people died from malaria in 2017 worldwide.

In observing World Malaria Day under the theme, “Zero malaria starts with me,” WHO launched a pilot phase of the first ever vaccine to be used in Africa, with Malawi, Ghana and Kenya being the three countries selected to test it on 360 000 children every year. The three countries have the highest number of malaria cases and treatment facilities.

Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, the recent cyclone that ravaged through the eastern part of the country, dampened the news of the gains the country had made in reducing the number of deaths and infections from malaria, since 2015.

National Malaria Coordinator, Dr. Joseph Mberikunashe, said Zimbabwe had attained a close to 60% decline in malaria deaths and infections.

“We have seen some significant decline, probably I’d put it at 57% decline since 2015 so far,” said Mberikunashe, who added that the country had been “making a bit of some progress toward our goal of realizing malaria elimination in the country, and of course working with our neighbors in the region.”

However, he said, the onset of Cyclone Idai which tore through Chipinge and Chimanimani in the eastern province of Manicaland, set the country back.

“We are in the peak period of transmission, we’ve also seen about 25% increase in the disease burden ever since the cyclone hit Manicaland from the 15th of March to date, compared to the same period last year, we are seeing about a 25% rise and we definitely believe that is due to the risks that were posed by the cyclone,” Mberikunashe said.

Mberikunashe explained that “Cyclone Idai, promoted the breeding ground more, because there was more rain, destruction of homes which we had sprayed, thereby exposing people, to more mosquito bites and malaria as a disease.”

As a result of the destruction from the tropical cyclone, Zimbabwe has now redoubled its efforts to prevent more deaths in the Manicaland Province, by treating stagnant pools of water and areas where mosquitos lay eggs.

Mberikunashe said they are also providing traditional prevention tools such as mosquito nets.

“We have since moved in with mosquito nets, for the population that were left homeless, to provide protection during the night when they are in the tents, in the schools or churches, where they are currently being domiciled,” he explained.

Data released by Zimbabwe’s health ministry to commemorate World Malaria Day showed that there were 264,278 malaria cases and 192 deaths in 2018.