Malaria outbreak feared, 49 dead

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THE country faces possible outbreak of malaria owing to flood episodes experienced in some of parts of the country since the start of the rainy season with more rains predicted likely to increase the odds of a spate of the disease, the Ministry of Health and Child Care has warned.
Programme manager of the malaria control unit in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Joseph Mberikunashe, however, said Government was fully geared to contain any outbreaks of the disease.

The Meteorological Services Department last week predicted more rains in Matabeleland South and North, Bulawayo, Masvingo, and Manicaland provinces, heightening fears of floods.

Dr Mberikunashe said the predicted floods might force a number of people from their “protected homes” into the open leaving them vulnerable to the disease.

He said the Ministry of Health and Child Care has so far supplied insecticidal nets and sprayed homes in 47 districts in malaria receptive areas around the country as a way of curbing the disease.

Manicaland and Mashonaland Central provinces are the traditional malaria hotbeds in the country and the Health Ministry concentrated most of its preventive interventions in those areas.

“Malaria outbreaks are always a possibility in this country because our population has no immunity to malaria in general, and given the flooding episodes we are experiencing people are going to be moving from their protected homes and will therefore be at risk.

“The appropriate response to outbreaks will be area specific as well as understanding the causative factors. In general the MOHCC is well prepared to respond should they occur.

“Homes in malaria receptive areas have already been sprayed. Insecticidal nets have been distributed, health facilities have been stocked with anti-malaria medicines and test kits, community based health workers have been trained and provided with the same commodities to enable families to get quick access to treatments,” he said.

Latest statistics from the Ministry of Health and Child Care show that 49 people died of malaria in January out of 27 031 cases recorded.

A total of 25 deaths, six of them being children under the age of five, were recorded in the last week of the month out of 9 532 cases, with Midlands Province recording 10 deaths, the highest nationwide.

Harare Metropolitan Province recorded four deaths while Manicaland recorded three and Mashonaland West, East and West provinces recorded two deaths each, followed by Matabeleland North which had one death.

Manicaland Province recorded 4 404 cases of malaria during the last week of last month, the highest nationwide followed by Mashonaland Central Province which had 1 857 cases.

Of the total number of cases recorded during the fourth week of the year, 14 percent were children under the age of five.

Dr Mberikunashe cited a number of factors leading to certain areas recording more cases of malaria and deaths than others adding that such factors often influence the choice of intervention strategies used for specific areas to fight the disease.

“Climate and natural factors such as rainfall pattern, temperature, humidity, altitude differences, socio-economic activities of the people and cultural or religious beliefs and practices often influence the choice of preventive interventions,” he said.

Early last year the Ministry of Health and Child Care warned of a possible malaria outbreak resurgence, citing cases of the disease that had been reported in traditionally malaria free zones, such as Goromonzi, as evidence of a possible resurgence.

Dr Mberikunashe said the Ministry of Health and Child Care was targeting to reduce malaria deaths from the current 22 per a thousand people per year, to one per thousand by 2017.

In the early 2000s the country used to record up to two million cases of malaria every year with about 5 000 deaths but the cases have since fallen to below half a million per year with about 350 deaths in recent years.

Some of the critical measures that the National Malaria Control Unit has adopted to reduce prevalence of malaria in the country include surveillance of malaria-causing mosquitoes and control activities in malaria prone areas.

Malaria is caused by a type of mosquito known as Anopheles. At the turn of the millennium Zimbabwe recorded an estimated two million cases of malaria per year.

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