Malaria deaths are on the rise in Zimbabwe as gains made in eliminating the infectious disease continue to be eroded by a new drug resistant strain and lack of funds to sustain disease monitoring and control efforts in the country, among other issues.
Officially opening the country’s annual malaria conference here yesterday, Health and Child Care Minister Dr. David Parirenyatwa said gains made in 2012 in fighting the disease are being threatened mostly by the re-emergence of the malaria vector "Anopheles funestus" in the border areas.
The minister said drug resistance malaria and shortages of antimalarial drugs have also become a major hurdle in the government’s efforts to eradicate malaria in Zimbabwe as is fluctuations in rainfall.
Future global warming could also lead to a significant increase in malaria cases in densely populated regions unless disease monitoring and control efforts are increased, according to researchers.
The mosquito-borne disease, that infects around 220 million people a year around the world, killed so thousands in Zimbabwe. Dr. Parirenyatwa said most of the people who succumbed to malaria where from the rural areas where inaccessible roads and lack of medicine remain a problem.
Mashonaland Central Provincial Medical Director Dr. Bernard Chuma said most malaria deaths in the country were due to the poor road network in the rural communities, especially during the rainy season resulting in many failing to access hospitals or clinics.
Mashonaland West PMD Dr. Andrew Kutswa said people living in the new resettlement areas are mostly at risk as the government has not yet built health facilities to serve the new farming communities. Most people, he said, walk more than 20 kilometers to get to the nearest clinic resulting in unnecessary deaths.
Masvingo province representative Dr. Cephas Chakadya blamed politicians for interfering with their work as health officials, adding sometimes health workers are forced to go to areas that are not at risk in the name of political mileage.
Though figures were not readily available, Dr. Chuma said Manicaland had the highest number of malaria deaths due to Mozambican crossing the border to seek medical attention in Mutare.
He said despite limited resources, Zimbabwe is also serving the foreign nationals and saving lives.
Figures are hard to establish for a disease that affects mainly poor communities in rural areas of developing countries.
Some researchers have argued that socio-economic improvements and more aggressive and effective mosquito-control efforts would have a large enough positive effect on the spread and intensity of malaria to neutralize the potential threat of changing climates.
Dr. Parirenyatwa said his Ministry will soon unveil its Malaria Business Plan for 2015 to 2017, hoping to invite private companies and others to join in the fight against malaria.
An estimated 20 million malaria cases and between 300,000—400,000 malaria deaths are recorded each year in the southern African region.