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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

More needs to be done in malaria fight

9th May 2012

Janeth, 35, lost her three-month-old baby to malaria five years ago. Her daughters’ death was a big blow to Janeth who had previously had a miscarriage due to malaria when she was two months pregnant.

The 35-year-old mother of four normally joins the rest of the world to mark the World’s Malaria Day on April 25 every year in memory of her beloved departed daughter.

A staunch Catholic, Janeth has for five consecutive years been marking Malaria Day by attending morning mass at her local church to pray for her daughter. She also shares her story with others through the media whenever possible as a way of educating others, especially women on the effects of malaria and how to prevent it.

“I do not want what happened to me to happen to others. I pray for a day when the world will be free from malaria,” she says.

Despite efforts by governments around the world to combat the disease, malaria remains a major health problem affecting poor nations such as Tanzania.

Although studies indicate that that the number of deaths caused by malaria in the country has gone down from 26 percent to 85 percent today, a lot still needs to be done to improve the situation.

Approximately 40% of the world’s population today, especially people living in developing countries, are at risk of malaria. The disease causes more than 300 million acute illnesses and at least one million deaths annually. Ninety percent of the deaths occur in Africa south of the Sahara.

It is estimated that between 16 and 18 million cases of malaria occur each year countrywide, resulting in over 100,000 deaths. Seventy percent of the deaths occur among under-five children. Malaria accounts for 30 percent of the national disease burden, 43 percent of under–five outpatient attendance, 35 percent of under–five hospital admissions and 37 percent of under–five hospital deaths.

The majority of the deaths in tropical Africa occur in areas of stable transmission of falciparum malaria. In these areas, the most vulnerable groups are under-five children whose immunity is still weak, and pregnant women whose immunity to the disease is temporarily impaired as a result of the pregnancy. It is a major cause of maternal anemia, abortion, neonatal deaths and low birth weight.

US John Hopkins University’s Director of projects in Tanzania, Waziri Nyoni, says they have started a country-wide door to door campaign, especially in rural areas aimed at reducing the number of malaria deaths by educating people on the symptoms, treatment and prevention of malaria.

According to Nyoni, the campaign has already registered positive results since most people now, especially those in remote areas are getting treatment of malaria at the right time unlike in previous years where some people died of malaria due to delayed treatment.

Michael Ngatunga, United Against Malaria’s Coordinator says in line with the World Malaria Day theme “Sustain Gains, Save Lives : Invest in Malaria” ,the disease can be prevented and treated through simple tools like using mosquito nets, effective medicine and safe in door residual spraying.

Ngatunga says Tanzania has made great strides in malaria control. In October last year, his office completed the universal coverage campaign that set out to cover every sleeping space with a long lasting insecticide treated net. Investment in malaria control has created unprecedented momentum and yielded remarkable returns in the past few years.

“In the last two years more than 26.4 million nets have been distributed free of charge to Tanzanians. Other malaria interventions are being rapidly scaled up across the country and the continued and expanded engagement of private contributors which will play a critical role in ensuring the long term success of the fight against malaria,” says Ngatunga.

In Africa, malaria deaths have been cut by one third within the last decade in 35 out of 53 countries affected by malaria. Malaria cases have been reduced by 50 percents in the same time period. In countries where access to malaria control intervention has improved most significantly, child mortality rates have fallen by approximately 20 percent.

However, these gains are fragile and will be reversed unless malaria continues to be a priority for global, regional, and national decision-makers and donors.

Despite the current economic climate, development aids need to continue flowing to national malaria control programs to ensure widespread population across to life-saving and cost effective interventions.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Centre for Communication programmes in collaboration with the National Malaria Program and the United Against Malaria Project has built support by empowering the private sector in Tanzania to be committed and take action against malaria.

“United Against Malaria safe program provides corporations with education, prevention and advocacy tools to protect their employees and local communities from malaria.

In turn, the private companies will help the government and the most at risk populations to achieve a better health, lower health care costs, greater productivity and higher standard of living and economic development,” Ngatunga noted.

A new report released by the Roll Back Malaria Partnership (RBM), of which United Against Malaria is a partner, shows that the global community has made remarkable gains in the fight against malaria, increasing hope that reaching near zero deaths is an achievable goal in sight by 2015.

A Decade of partnership and international efforts to combat malaria have reduced deaths by more than one third, saving 1.1 million lives in sub-Saharan Africa in the past ten years. Due to increased access to intervention tools and treatment options, particularly insecticide-treated mosquito nets, 11 countries in Africa have cut malaria cases or deaths by 50 percent or more, reversing the deadly grip the disease has had on the continent – where over 90 percent of all malaria deaths occur.

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