By Byron Mutingwende
Teererai Mabeye (not real name) is seven months pregnant but has been battling a severe headache for two days. Her mother-in-law finally decides to take her to the local Chibuwe Clinic in Chipinge District after she begins to sweat profusely, her body temperature hovering above 40 Degrees Celsius.
The journey to the local clinic took more than two hours in a donkey-driven cart because of a lack of transport since most vehicles have abandoned the potholed dusty road that connects Maronga, Kondo, Chibuwe and the Mwacheta area.
Upon arrival at the clinic, Mabeye was diagnosed of malaria. According to the Medical News Today, malaria is a life-threatening blood disease caused by parasites transmitted to humans through the bite of the Anopheles mosquito. Once an infected mosquito bites a human and transmits the parasites, those parasites multiply in the host’s liver before infecting and destroying red blood cells.
Malaria is one of the world’s biggest killer diseases. In Zimbabwe over 400 000 cases of malaria are reported every year, raising the fear that the country might miss the World Health Organisation (WHO) target of African countries to malaria free by the year 2020. The prevalence of malaria is high during the rainy season between November and April.
“Mabeye ended up having cerebral malaria and was pronounced dead just an hour after admission at the clinic. Her relatives were shattered by the loss of two lives due to malaria. We call upon households to keep drugs available to treat malaria and to take to fumigate against the mosquitoes,” said a health official who spoke on grounds of anonymity.
A recent report by The Financial Gazette noted that malaria is the third leading cause of illness and mortality in Zimbabwe. Of the country’s 63 districts, 47 of those districts are malarial, with 33 categorised as high burden malaria areas.
“It is important to note that malaria is not just a health issue, but a socio-economic one as well. Malaria has a direct impact on a country’s human resources. Not only does it result in loss of life and loss of productivity, due to illness and premature death, it also affects children’s school attendance and social development through both absenteeism and permanent neurological damages associated with severe episodes of the disease,” Health Minister, David Parirenyatwa was quoted.
Tuesday, 25 April 2017 marks 17 years since African Heads of State and Government committed to key actions to end malaria as a public health threat in the Abuja Declaration on Roll Back Malaria on 25 April 2000. African leaders further declared 25 April as Malaria Day to be commemorated annually for sustained advocacy and ensuring that the disease remains high on the policy and political agenda.
In a statement on Tuesday 25 April 2017, the African Union said the commemoration came at a critical juncture when significant progress had been made but there was a need to catalyse and sustain action in the race to end malaria for good.
“The progress that we have made is a result of sustained partnerships, shared responsibility and global solidarity that has seen increased global investments in malaria. The results that we celebrate today in Africa include an estimated 23% drop in new malaria cases and a 31% decline in deaths from the disease between 2010 and 2015. However we are mindful that Africa continues to bear the biggest burden of malaria with 90% of cases in 2015 estimated at 212 million worldwide occurring in Africa.
“Furthermore 92% of malaria mortality in 2015 occurred in Africa. The gains against malaria are fragile as demonstrated by the recent malaria resurgence in Southern Africa. This requires all of us to remain vigilant in order to ensure that the gains made are not reversed, and this can happen very quickly. We need to accelerate efforts to support regions on the continent that are still at the stage of controlling malaria and those moving towards malaria elimination,” AU said.
The continental bloc said it was working to end malaria since it was successfully eliminated in other regions. African leaders endorsed the Catalytic Framework to end AIDS, TB and Eliminate Malaria in Africa in Africa by 2030 in July last year. The strategy has set bold and ambitious targets to reduce new cases of malaria and malaria deaths by 90% by 2030. Effective strategies that have been put in place across the continent to prevent malaria include insecticide treated mosquito nets and indoor spraying with residual insecticides. The AU said to succeed in its battle with malaria, there was need for greater investments in surveillance and early warning systems to allow early detection and faster response to the outbreaks. Currently many countries with a high burden of malaria have weak surveillance systems and are not in a position to assess disease distribution and trends, making it difficult to optimise responses and respond to outbreaks.
Emerging insecticide resistance also remains a threat to the region’s long-term progress. Early diagnosis and treatment of malaria reduces the disease, prevents death and contributes to reducing malaria transmission.
“We need to deal with antimalarial drug resistance as it is a recurring problem in our society. To reach to a malaria free Africa we need to strengthen ownership and leadership in countries, enhance partnerships and coordination and increase domestic health financing. Efforts to prevent malaria in pregnancy alone have averted newborn deaths globally. Less malaria means healthier societies, increased attendance at school and work, more productive communities, and stronger economies. Eliminating malaria is critical to achieving Africa’s blueprint for socio-structural transformation, Agenda 2063, and must remain a key continental priority.
We must sustain political will, robust financial investment and innovation to ensure continued success against malaria. The continued development of new solutions and strategies are revolutionising detection, treatment and malaria prevention. Next-generation drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines are vital in our collective efforts to further accelerate gains and mitigate the threat of drug and insecticide resistance. Strong regional collaborations that address cross-border malaria transmission and broader health security issues help countries and regions to achieve elimination goals. We have come far in our journey to defeat malaria, which we envisioned in Abuja in 2000. We need to sustain strong partnerships, continued strong political commitments and funding to end malaria once and for all. Together we can end malaria for good.”