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Covid-19 hampers Zimbabwe’s malaria fight

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THE global Covid-19 crisis has affected Zimbabwe’s bid to eradicate malaria by further straining the country’s ill-equipped health facilities while policymakers’ attention has firmly been fixed on the virus, to the neglect of other diseases.

NHAU MANGIRAZI

World Malaria Day was marked on Sunday but the commemorations were low key because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tariro Kutadza, a Global Fund coordinating committee member, said although the country has made significant progress towards malaria elimination, isolated seasonal outbreaks persistently resurface. Kutadza said Zimbabwe is among several countries where the fight on malaria has been drawn back because of Covid-19.

“Covid-19 struck, complicating the efforts to end malaria as the restrictions related to the response-caused disruptions to essential malaria services,” Kutadza said.

She said in 2017, there was a recurrence of malaria in Beitbridge dlistrict with 52% of the affected being females and the mean age of cases was between 13 and 29 years. 

“It was resolved that health promotion messages should emphasise the importance of closing the entry points of the malaria vector, and the construction of better houses in the future. Residents had to be educated in the importance of consistent use of mosquito nets. The district had to improve malaria prevention8 measures like distribution of mosquito nets and lobby for more human resources to assist with malaria surveillance thus, curbing the recurrence of malaria outbreaks.”

Community on Health Working Group executive director Itai Rusike said the fight on malaria must remain a priority to pro the progress made to defeat the disease. 

He said half of the world still lives at the risk of malaria as 409 000 people died from the disease in 2019. 

Rusike explained that an estimated two thirds of these deaths are children under the age of five. 

‘‘Every two minutes, a child dies from malaria. These statistics should make us restless, especially because malaria is a preventable and treatable disease. This calls for high-impact investments in education, prevention, diagnosis and treatment, including research and development,’’ said Rusike.
He added that fighting malaria depends on the building of stronger health systems that have been weakened by the onset of Covid-19. 

‘‘To achieve this, there is need for stronger political leadership, more funding and increased innovation. There is a call for community engagement, robust partnerships with private sector, foundations, academia, the government, civil society organisations, for mutual planning, execution and accountability,’’ said Rusike.

Young Women Christian Association executive director Muchanyara Mukamuri said Covid-19 had shifted attention from malaria and other diseases.

“Covid-19 disrupted our normalcy, and all our attention is directed to interventions that are aimed at reducing its negative impacts. There is need to remember the need to always strike a balance by continuing all efforts to eradicate malaria in Zimbabwe. We need to take stock and celebrate our achievements in the fight on malaria, but focus as well on how we can achieve total malaria eradication in Zimbabwe. It is the time to involve all stakeholders including public and private partners so that they too can contribute to the malaria fight. Communities need capacity strengthening so that they can also contribute. Malaria eradication is doable if we all take part in the fight,’’ he said.

Rusike explained that there is also a need for critical malaria programmes that must be complemented with broader efforts to build stronger community systems for health.

 ‘‘Further, ending endemic diseases such as malaria will contribute to strengthening fragile health systems and beating pandemics like Covid-19 because ending malaria will ease the burden on health systems and increase capacity to detect, prevent, and respond to pandemics,’’ he said.

Ninety percent of the global annual malaria mortality cases emanate from the African region. About 80% to 90% of malaria transmissions are in sub-Saharan Africa and occur indoors during the night. 
In Zimbabwe, 79% of the population is at risk of contracting the disease.

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