The national director for the malaria programme Joseph Mberi has said the increase in malaria cases and deaths coincided with the peak period of malaria transmission and the symptoms mimic other diseases, including COVID-19.
BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
Since the beginning of the year, over 170 000 malaria cases have been recorded with 152 deaths.
Concerns have been raised on the increased number of cases which surpassed those from precious years.
“In comparison with figures for the same period, we have seen a 40% increase on cases and 20% on deaths due to malaria,” Mberi said.
He said while the increase was worrisome, it was expected.
“Our malaria transmission pattern peaks during March and June. We have the highest because the rains would have already fallen and brought fertile breeding grounds for malaria,” he said.
Mberi added that because many people were harvesting during this period they would mostly be outdoors and were exposed with many unable to afford repellents.
“This year we have been unfortunate because the symptoms of malaria are similar to those of COVID-19. This calls for us to be more vigilant and do the right thing in identifying whether it is malaria or not,” he said.
Some of the signs and symptoms of malaria include fever, headache, joint pains, backache, shortness of breath, vomiting and even diarrhoea.
Mberi said they had instituted investigations on the affected provinces.
“Manicaland leads with 61% of the cases. This is largely due to the effects of Cyclone Idai. Many people still do not have homes and are exposed,” he said.
For Matabeleland South, he said preliminary findings indicated that the communities were very nomadic, constantly moving looking for grazing land.
“To date, 27 districts have received mosquito nets, while 31 have received residual spray,”
Meanwhile, Mberi said there was need for the health personnel, including village health workers to be provided with personal protective equipment (PPE).
“We are not blind to COVID-19. Government has put in place measures and we are working with officials,” he said, adding that health workers moved in the community and were in direct contact with many people. This, he said, would expose them and so there was need for them to be given PPE like gloves and masks.
Zimbabwe has made significant progress in the reduction of the malaria burden. According to the Health ministry data, malaria incidence declined by 84,5% from 136/1 000 people in 2000 to 21/1 000 in 2016.
However, the 2017 incidence increased due to a rise in outbreaks. The country received a lot of rain during the 2016/2017 malaria season which increased mosquito-breeding places resulting in the increased mosquito population density. This led to an increase in malaria outbreaks experienced in the provinces.
Floods also displaced some populations which increased their vulnerability to malaria. By mid-third quarter of 2017, the number of cases had surpassed those recorded in 2015 and 2016 for the same period.