Rumbidzayi Zinyuke-Senior Reporter
Zimbabwe continues to make tremendous progress in the reduction of malaria incidence with a 70 percent decline in cases reported between 2007 to date as the country moves towards achieving the global malaria control strategy goals.
The positive development comes as the country yesterday joined in commemorating World Malaria Day which was celebrated under the theme; “Harness innovation to reduce the malaria disease burden and save lives.”
Malaria is a preventable and treatable disease that continues to have a devastating impact on the health and livelihood of people around the world.
In 2020, there were an estimated 241 million new cases of malaria and 627 000 malaria-related deaths in 85 countries with more than two thirds of deaths recorded among children under the age of five living in Africa.
Ministry of Health and Child Care Malaria Department, social behaviour communications officer, Mrs Fortunate Manjoro said the country had successfully implemented malaria control and prevention strategies which were paying off.
“If we look at our malaria deaths and cases for the past 15 years, we notice we have made quite some achievement. Malaria deaths reduced by about 73 percent, when you look at the mortality rate it was 3,3 percent in 2007 and it went down to 0,9 percent in 2021.
“When we look at our malaria incidence it also went down by 91 percent between 2007 and 2021. Although we had some Covid-19 issues in 2020 where we saw our malaria incidence increasing compared to 2019 but when we then look at 2021 we have had quite a remarkable reduction and we are looking at malaria having reduced from 447 381 percent in 2020 to 133 134 in 2021 which is a 70 percent reduction. Our deaths also reduced by nearly 70 percent from 400 to 122 in 2021,” she said.
She said the Covid-19 pandemic had disrupted malaria programmes with lack of protective clothing as well as information among health workers contributing to delays in identification of cases.
Malaria and Covid-19 present the same initial symptoms and this resulted in some malaria cases going undiagnosed and untreated.
Mrs Manjoro said the Government in collaboration with its partners had gone all out to train health workers on the management of Covid-19 and Malaria and provided adequate protective clothing particularly for village health workers.
“We gave them information so that they know how to identify malaria and Covid because the initial symptoms are similar people didn’t know what to do. Commodities like test kits and medicines were also made available to the village health workers and people could access treatment from them. About 54 percent of all the cases that were treated last year were treated by village health workers,” she said.
Zimbabwe used Indoor Residual Spraying as the major malaria control strategy to prevent malaria and Mrs Manjoro said this has helped to protect an average of 3,3 million people form malaria each year.
The Ministry of Health and Child Care also distributed treated mosquito nets in areas of low transmission as well as high transmission areas in response to outbreaks.
Between 2010 and 2021, more than 7 million nets have been distributed across the country.
“Our country has actually started implementing elimination strategies which started in 2012 with seven districts in Matabeleland South. We now we have 30 districts which are now implementing elimination. When implementing elimination it means you are recording very few cases which can be traced and malaria becomes notifiable,” she said.
“We test every suspected case and only positive cases are treated using effective medicines. We also have a strong surveillance system which we use to track and trace every person in elimination districts. We also have our epidemic preparedness where we preposition commodities for prevention in areas which we know are prone to outbreaks and we move in and give meds.”
Mrs Manjoro said using the WHO recommended strategies, over 80 percent of the country’s population was now covered and this had helped to reduce malaria cases.
She said community awareness programmes had also helped to create ownership of malaria prevention and control programmes which had improved effectiveness of such initiatives.
In a statement, WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti said the past year had seen significant breakthroughs in malaria prevention and control, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Landmark recommendations on the use of the first vaccine against malaria – RTS,S – were released by the World Health Organisation late last year. This vaccine will be used to prevent malaria among children aged six months to five years, who live in moderate- to high-transmission settings. While this is a groundbreaking advance in the development of new tools to fight this disease, with the potential to save millions of lives, supplies are currently limited. As such, it is important to ensure that the doses that are available are utilised for maximum impact, while ensuring continued availability of other preventive measures to those most at risk,” she said.
She said there was need to work on drug and insecticide resistance, as well as focus on new strains of malaria arising in the region, which were more difficult to detect, and treat.