Malaria deaths, cases surge in SADC …as coronavirus disrupts prevention programmes

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Sharon Kavhu

Windhoek - Malaria deaths and cases in the Southern African region have increased this year compared to the same period in 2018/2019 due to the outbreak of Covid-19 which has disrupted malaria response measures in the region.

The SADC Elimination 8 (E8) this week said the higher cases and mortality rates of malaria in the region has prompted a state of regional emergency that requires urgent interventions.

E8 is an initiative by eight SADC countries - Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe -- to collaborate across borders to eliminate malaria. African Heads of State have called for the elimination of malaria transmission throughout Africa and these eight countries are leading the way for the African continent, demonstrating that elimination is possible in continental sub-Saharan Africa.

 “Currently, six of the eight E8 member countries are in alert mode and have reported increases in malaria cases and higher mortality rates, prompting a state of regional emergency and requiring urgent response and action,” said E8 in a report.

Information from the E8 shows that the surge in malaria cases is attributed to severe disruptions to malaria programming, campaigns and disruptions in community access to antimalarial medicines.

In response to this emergency, the E8 Ministers of Health have led a call to action to mobilise additional financial and technical resources to support national and cross border emergencies.

“They have committed to weekly ministerial updates to monitor the situation and are re-allocating additional resources within their national budgets to their malaria programmes to support emerging needs. Through the regional mechanism, the E8 is mobilising additional technical support from partners, and procuring malaria commodities to support national emergencies and accelerate the containment of potential malaria outbreaks, as well as maintaining normal malaria mitigation activities,” said E8.

The current chairperson of the E8 board, Zimbabwean Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Dr Obadiah Moyo, said before Covid-19, the region experienced a decrease in malaria cases and deaths.

“The regional bloc has seen a significant reduction of malaria cases and deaths since its formation. However, this year’s commemorations for the World Malaria Day is coming at a time when the world, and indeed our region, is battling with the deadly Covid-19 pandemic and this is not only threatening to reverse the gains made towards malaria elimination but is also overstretching the health systems and hurting economies of our countries,” said Moyo in his remarks on World Malaria Day.

“This scenario calls for the need for close collaboration and sharing of lessons learnt as well as best practices by member states. It is important that as we focus our efforts on controlling the pandemic, we do not lose sight of malaria control and elimination, after all malaria is one of the major causes of mortality in our region and Africa as a whole.”

He said he was pleased that as the E8 celebrates its 11th anniversary this year, there were significant progress and milestones that had so far been achieved.

Among the milestones, Moyo highlighted that E8 had managed to establish cross-border collaboration that had enabled greater coordination and commitment to malaria prevention and response at critical border areas where importation of malaria is high.

He said E8 had also created a Regional Surveillance Platform, the E8 Situation Room, and a facility for regional collaboration in outbreak monitoring and response. The development had improved data sharing across borders, thereby greatly improving the region’s capacity to collectively understand where transmission is occurring and to rapidly disseminate information.

The regional bloc has also managed to establish 46 border clinics, a combination of both mobile and static facilities, between 2016 and 2019. Moyo said this was achieved with support from the Global Fund.

“The E8 has mobilised over US$40 million in cash and kind with the main funders being the Global Fund, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Global Health Group. Technical support continues to be provided by the World Health Organisation, and the Roll Back Malaria Partnership. Strategic direction and leadership continue to be received from the Africa Union, SADC and ALMA.”

He said E8 has also managed to sign the Windhoek Declaration to Eliminate Malaria in Windhoek Namibia during the SADC Heads of States and Government Summit held in August 2017.

The declaration reaffirms malaria elimination as a national and regional priority and commits member states to take bold action towards a malaria-free Southern Africa by 2030.

World Malaria Day is commemorated annually on 25 of April and this year it was held under the theme: ‘Zero Malaria Starts With Me’.

 

   

 

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