Island close to eliminating killer disease on World Malaria Day
Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania, has drastically reduced malaria cases in the past decade thanks to multiple interventions.
They include public education, insecticide spraying, and treated bed nets that have helped prevent the deaths of pregnant women and children under the age of 5.
Nassor Ahmed Mazrui, Zanzibar’s Health Minister, said the world’s number one killer disease has declined to low levels in the semi-autonomous archipelago and various efforts are underway to prevent it from retaking hold.
“We are encouraging people to sleep under treated bed nets, take proper testing and medication and keep the environment clean to prevent mosquito breeding,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Mazrui said success in the fight against Malaria is a result of a coordinated response between residents of Zanzibar, the government and international partners.
“We owe this success to international partners who have played a huge role to provide funding for malaria projects in the isles,” he said.
Malaria is the largest killer in Africa, with more than 1 million deaths every year, most of whom are children under 5. Until a decade ago, the parasite was the leading health problem in Zanzibar.
As the world marks Malaria Day on Monday, authorities in the Indian Ocean archipelago are working to identify and tame breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
With multiple strategies, such as indoor/ outdoor residual spraying and extensive use of insecticide-treated bed nets, health officials in Zanzibar have been able to keep Malaria-transmitting mosquitoes at bay disease’s prevalence remaining at 1%.
Despite making good progress, officials say eliminating the disease is an uphill struggle because of close interaction with visitors from the mainland and other areas where Malaria is rife.
“Mosquitoes are very tricky, when they bite someone already infected with malaria, they can quickly pass on the parasite to another person,” said Mohamed Ali, an official with the Zanzibar Anti-Malaria program.
Ali said the government is still banking on public health education, especially artemisinin-based combination therapy for malaria treatment and indoor/outdoor spraying, significantly reducing mosquito breeding areas.
“The people of Zanzibar are lucky to have unlimited access to better services for diagnosis and treatment of Malaria. We want to maintain this pace, and soon, this deadly disease will be eliminated once and for all,” he said.
Barely a decade ago, local doctor Zainab Ali Hamad showed up at her clinic in the tiny village of Jambiani only to find a horde of feverish people waiting on a wooden bench.
Malaria was ravaging her community. Now, she hardly sees a patient with Malaria. Drastic change is documented on a handwritten ledger she keeps on her wooden desk.
“We have struggled a lot to fight Malaria. It was a serious public health problem in the past. However, we have seen impressive results with multiple interventions over the years. The challenge, for now, is to keep the morbidity down,” said Hamad
In rural parts of Zanzibar — a vast expanse of coconut, banana trees and mud-walled houses — authorities took advantage of donor money to spray homes and distribute nets treated with insecticides.
Nearly 200,000 homes on Zanzibar were sprayed in three waves, more than 230,000 nets were handed out, and 100,000 rapid diagnostic kits were stocked in clinics.
Nemy Hussein, 41, who lives in a rundown, concrete shack with no electricity or running water, was among those whose homes were treated.
Her home was sprayed three times, and her children sleep together in a bed protected by a white net draped over the posts and tucked under the mattress.
Hussein’s 11-year-old daughter, Natasha, used to suffer from fevers, headaches and other malaria symptoms three to five times a month.
Since she received the net, Hussein said Natasha had not experienced a malaria attack.
Now, instead of making the long trek on foot to the clinic every week, Hussein said she had not gone in six months. “It is a blessing. I thank the almighty God for protecting my family,” she said.
The Zanzibar government routinely hands out bed nets to pregnant mothers and children under 5, who are most susceptible to the disease, and it pays for indoor spraying and treatment.