SADC Malaria Day: Why community is key to combating the disease

Posted on November 06, 2020

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Malaria Day – as part of SADC Malaria Week – is commemorated annually on 6 November and aims to raise awareness about the disease and rally the malaria-endemic community to play its part in the drive towards malaria elimination. The theme for 2020 is “Community Involvement is Key to Achieving Zero Malaria”. Every year, UP’s Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control (UP ISMC) provides important facts about this deadly disease that people need to keep in mind. Taneshka Kruger, Project Manager of the ISMC, tells us more. 
Why is community involvement so important in the fight against malaria?
TK: We will not achieve malaria elimination anytime soon without buy-in from affected communities with regards to current control strategies implemented by malaria control programmes in their countries and without the understanding of people living in non-endemic areas. 
How deadly a disease is malaria?
TK: Every two minutes the disease claims the life of a child. Malaria is preventable and treatable, yet more than 220 million people still contract it annually and almost half a million people die each year. Over US$5 billion is required annually to effectively fight malaria globally, but each year there is a shortfall of almost half that amount. And in spite of increased efforts to eliminate the disease, malaria is starting to fight back.
Who is at risk?
TK: Anyone is at risk, though young children, pregnant women or travellers from non-endemic areas tend to have little or no immunity against it, and are more likely to become very sick and die. People who do not live in malaria areas can be infected when they travel to an endemic area. There is also imported malaria, where the host was infected in a malaria-endemic area, but infection was identified in a non-endemic area. Odyssean (suitcase or taxi) malaria is when the mosquito “travels” to a non-endemic area and then bites a person. 
Today nearly half the global population, across 91 countries and territories, still live in areas at risk of malaria transmission.  
Where is malaria found?
TK: About 2000 years ago malaria was found across the Italian peninsula. It was found in the US back in the 15th century, and was deemed eliminated from the country only in 1951. Today nearly half the global population, across 91 countries and territories, still live in areas at risk of malaria transmission. For there to be malaria in an area you need the malaria (Plasmodium) parasites, transmission vectors (female Anopheles mosquitoes) and hosts (humans or animals). Climate (rainfall, temperature and humidity) determines the occurrence of the vectors and parasites in an area, and climate change can impact this. The disease is found mainly in tropical and sub-tropical regions, featuring primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, but also in South and Southeast Asia, parts of Central and South America, the Caribbean, Middle East and Oceania. 
In 2018, out of the 16 SADC countries, five fell in the top 20 countries contributing to 85% of the global malaria burden, with the Democratic Republic of Congo in second place (12%) and Mozambique in fourth place (4%). South Africa’s case numbers are almost negligible in comparison, with only the north-eastern parts of the Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal being malaria-endemic.
What are the symptoms of malaria?
TK: It shares similar symptoms with various other diseases such as influenza, gastrointestinal infection, the common flu, even COVID-19. If you have these symptoms and were recently in a malaria-endemic area, then you might have the disease. Malaria can be uncomplicated or severe (complicated), with varying treatment. Uncomplicated malaria consists of bouts of mild fever with vague flu-like symptoms including headache, malaise, fatigue, nausea, minimal vomiting, muscular pains, slight diarrhoea and slight increase of body temperature. Complicated or severe malaria symptoms include delirium, generalised convulsions, impaired consciousness and respiratory distress, possible anaemia, jaundice, renal failure followed by persistent coma and death. 
In most cases, symptoms can start between 10 and 14 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito, or even up to four weeks after that, depending on the type of parasite that has been transmitted. 
How can you prevent getting malaria?
TK: It is important to know your A, B, Cs: be Aware of the symptoms; avoid being Bitten; use Chemoprophylaxis; get an early Diagnosis; and seek Effective treatment. The easiest way to stay safe is to avoid being bitten. This is achieved by avoiding going out between dusk and dawn; wearing long-sleeved clothing; avoiding dark colours that tend to attract mosquitoes; applying repellent to exposed skin; using screens in front of windows and doors; using anti-mosquito sprays or burning mosquito coils; and sleeping with a fan on and under a bed net.
To learn more about malaria, go to 
- Author Taneshka Kruger

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