Home » Health Services » Malaria – a Threat to Zim [column]

“IS there anything to write about on climate change in Zimbabwe?” one doctor asked me in bewilderment during a routine check up at the hospital recently.

I looked intently at this learned gentleman for some couple of seconds, multiple questions running amok in my mind, before calmly responding: “there is so much to write about, even in your own sector, the health sector.”

“Wow!,” the bemused doctor exclaimed, holding in his hands a very large syringe whose contents would soon enter my bloodstream after explaining to him the increasing risks of disease outbreaks due to climate change and global warming.

“I have never thought of it that way. Really, I have never considered climate change to have any such impact even in the health sector.”

Today the risk of Malaria has multiplied due to warming temperatures.

The impact of climate change on water will be deep. Safety is not guaranteed.

After its world-acclaimed successes in cutting HIVAIDS-related deaths, Zimbabwe is facing fresh threats from malaria due to climate change.

In the absence of international funding, the country horned innovative strategies that have reduced the HIV prevalence rate from nearly 30 percent in 1997 to just 14 percent in 2013.

No other country in Africa, or elsewhere, has reported such progress.

However, warming global temperatures have escalated the risk of malaria in tropical countries like Zimbabwe, creating a new threat from an old enemy, one that was a sure death sentence in the early 20th century, worldwide.

Zimbabwe’s average surface temperatures have climbed 0,8 degrees Celsius since 1900, according to the Meteorological Services Department.

Warmer temperatures create fertile breeding conditions for the malaria-carrier, Anopheles mosquito.

Water scarcity is worsening and this will cause water-related diseases to increase.

New research from the UN’s Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change warns of significant multiplication of malaria risk in countries such as Zimbabwe and Mozambique, if global temperature rise is not curbed at a maximum 2 degrees Celsius by 2080.

The IPCC projects temperatures will rise by 6 degrees Celsius by end of this century in Sub-Sahara Africa.

Now, these risks have already become evident in Zimbabwe, as the dangerous effects of climate change such as severe floods or droughts, longer warmer days, and shorter winters are now witnessed.

According to the USAID-Zimbabwe Presidential Malaria Initiative (PMI), malaria is the third cause of illness and mortality in Zimbabwe.

Since 2014, illnesses and deaths linked to the disease have risen, threatening to return to the 5 000 per year deaths reported in the early 2000s.

The PMI, which has distributed hundreds of thousands of mosquito nets in Zimbabwe’s malaria-prone zones, estimates malaria incidences to top two million in the coming years due to poor response.

It says the decline to 350 malaria deaths per year reported in the years before 2012 would not stand for long.

As of June this year, the Ministry of Health and Child Care reported that 515 malaria-related deaths had occurred in the country.

Of these, 20 were recorded in the first two weeks of June.

The disease claimed 326 lives during the first nine months of 2013, which shows a significant increase in the number of lives lost to the disease.

This is despite the assumption and assurance from health officials that there would be a sharp decline in malaria cases during off peak period, which is winter period.

Over 425 000 malaria cases were reported countrywide with Mashonaland Central and Manicaland provinces topping the list.

Most of the cases were reported in the well known malaria prone areas of Rushinga, Muzarabani, Centenary, Mbire, Guruve, Mt Darwin and Mazowe areas in the Mashonaland Central province while Buhera District of Manicaland province was among the top on the list.

Other areas include Triangle and parts of Chipinge’s low lying areas. These are the country’s most hot and flood prone areas.

Of the country’s 62 districts, 33 are deemed malaria high risk areas, with the National Malaria Control Programme estimating half of the population is at risk of the disease.

According to a 2011 survey, malaria accounts for 30 percent of all hospital out-patients cases and 12 percent of all hospital admissions.

The primary malaria zone areas are the northern and eastern parts of the country, which border Zambia and Mozambique.

The PMI’s worldwide goal is to halve malaria deaths in targeted African countries, Zimbabwe among them.

The National Malaria Control Programme monitors activities of the PMI and Gold Fund, which availed support for Zimbabwe for both prevention and treatment of the disease.

This includes distribution of insecticide treated mosquito nets, supply of anti malaria drugs, provision of anti malaria test kits and therapy drugs, training health workers in proper malaria case management, indoor insecticide spraying and strengthening outreach for prevention and treatment in communities.

But the country still has a long way to go in ensuring communities embrace the knowledge imparted to them in the prevention and treatment of the disease.

A right attitude among the communities is still a challenge in the fight against malaria, as it has emerged beneficiaries of such communities convert the mosquito nets into fishing nets.

According to a paper by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) on climate change impact and vulnerability in Zimbabwe, the country is already experiencing the effects of climate change notably rainfall patterns and extreme events.

These conditions combined with warming temperatures are expected to make land unsuitable for agriculture, posing a major threat to the economy and livelihoods of many who depend on rain-fed agriculture.

The increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are likely to intensify the existing natural hazard burdens for populations at risk and increase of infectious diseases vectors, mosquitoes in particular.

In the past decade, heavy flooding has been frequent in the country’s low lying areas, creating fertile ground for malaria causing mosquitoes in stagnant waters.

With the climate expected to continue changing, countries like Zimbabwe face a new challenge of adaptation and malaria prevalence will remain a worry and challenge for the country in the next decade.

Source : The Herald