Malaria still a major cause of poverty – officials warn

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A nursing mother sleeps under a mosquito bed net with her baby. / File

There is need for continued investment and sustained political commitment in malaria prevention and control to curb the disease’s contribution to poverty, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, Dr Aimable Mbituyumuremyi, the division manager of Malaria and Other Parasitic Diseases at the Rwanda Biomedical Centre, has said.

Speaking to The New Times ahead of the World Malaria Day, due today, Mbituyumuremyi said the occasion is an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the global effort to control and eradicate malaria.

This year’s World Malaria Day theme is ‘A Push For Prevention.’

“This is a good opportunity to assess where we are in terms of improving malaria prevention and control interventions in order to achieve the target of elimination of malaria,” he said.

In the fight against malaria, Mbituyumuremyi said, Rwanda has achieved significant strides over the past decade with the disease falling from the first killer of children under five in 2005 to third position in 2008 and eleventh in 2011.

However, results of Malaria Strategic Plan Mid Term Review of September 2016 showed that malaria cases increased, with most incidences recorded in Eastern and Southern provinces.

“The Malaria Test Positivity Rate increased from 34 per cent in 2012 to 42 per cent in 2015/16. An increase in malaria-related deaths was also observed from 592 in 2013-2014 to 698 in 2015-2016.

The incidence rate increased every year over the review period, from 112 per 1,000 in 2013/14 to 308 per 1,000 in 2015/16. The increase in malaria cases was observed in all provinces,” Mbituyumuremyi said.

However, since June last year, different anti-malaria interventions were launched, something that Mbituyumuremyi said drastically changed the disease’s trends.

“We always distribute mosquito nets countrywide but as part of our intervention, last year alone, we launched a campaign that ran from November 2016 to March this year, during which we distributed about four million bed nets, launched Indoor Residual Spraying in five high risk districts, and involved communities in malaria control and this has significantly lowered malaria cases,” he said.

In October 2016, the Government intensified door-to-door management programme covering 18 districts, thus reducing severe cases and deaths by 50 per cent since patients are able to receive early diagnosis and treatment from community workers at the village level without necessarily going to health centres or hospitals.

Over 30,000 community workers were trained and equipped for the effort.

Mbituyumuremyi also hailed the Cabinet decision to allow people under Ubudehe I and II categories to receive free malaria treatment.

Partners react

According to the Mission Director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID-Rwanda), Marcia Musisi-Nkambwe, the World Malaria Day is a time to celebrate all of the progress made in fighting the deadly disease and an opportunity to recommit to eliminating it once and for all.

She hailed Rwanda for reducing mortality rate of children under five by two-thirds.

“We are ensuring that insecticide-treated bed nets are delivered to households, and that families, especially expectant mothers and newborns, are protected from malaria. We are supporting Rwanda’s efforts to ensure that every suspected malaria case is tested, and confirmed cases of malaria are treated promptly,” Musisi-Nkambwe said in an opinion piece.

The World Health Organisation’s malaria national programme officer, Dr Michel Gasana, said Africa still has critical gaps in access to life-saving malaria prevention and control tools.

“In 2015, an estimated 47 per cent of the population at risk of malaria did not sleep under a treated net. Indoor Residual Spraying is another powerful tool to protect population against mosquitoes but it is expensive and difficult to cover the entire country with this intervention. In addition, progress in the malaria fight is threatened by the emergence and spread of mosquito resistance to insecticides,” he said.

The national celebrations will kick off with the launch of an outreach care and treatment campaign in Southern and Eastern provinces.

An estimated 5,000 people will be tested and treated within the week starting today up to this month’s Umuganda exercise on Saturday.

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