Southern Africa: Malaria Kills 83 000 in SADC

Tsitsi Matope | 13 Sep 2006

At least 83 000 people from the bulk of southern African countries have died of malaria between October 2005 and March 2006.

This was revealed by malaria experts at a Malaria Outlook Forum (MALOF), which was followed by the Southern Africa Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) meeting here following disturbing reports that the killer disease, which could kill within days, was not being prioritised.

Malaria experts from the World Health organisation, who were among the 30 participants, argued that there was lack of adequate preparedness and quick responsiveness to malaria outbreaks.

"There is need to have on-the-time data on seasonal outlook and daily to monthly bulletins on wind, humidity, speed interaction and appropriate or close accurate temperatures for us to determine what needs to be done," WHO malaria epidemics and emergencies officer Mr Joaquim da Silva said.

He said malaria experts also needed some of the data explained to them for effective planning.

Mr da Silva said the beginning of winter was also critical in both their research work and eradication of malaria parasites as this would be the time when they would be dormant.

Climate experts said seasonal data relevant to malaria was available, but the major challenge was its dissemination and weak relations with their counterparts.

"For instance malaria experts sometimes hold crucial meetings that require our input but we are never invited. This has strained malaria eradication strategies in the region," Mr Mandla Dhlamini, a meteorologist from Swaziland, said.

He said there was need to create a malaria focal point in all meteorological departments in the region for easy accessibility of data and dissemination.

High deaths due to malaria were recorded in Mozambique between the 2005/2006 rainy season which started in October and ended around April.

In Mozambique, WHO said 120 000 malaria cases were reported every week and over 70 people died a week.

"Although Mozambique has a higher population as compared to most countries in the region, the figures are of major concern," the malaria experts said.

This means at least 2 000 people died between October 2005 and March 2006.

Namibia, which is still battling to come up with effective preventive mechanisms, lost on average 50 people a month in the last rainy season and it is estimated that over 300 people died of the disease.

Zimbabwe recorded an average of 5000 cases per week and at least 288 people died in the last rainy season.

"Zambia recorded over 5 000 deaths during that period while in South Africa slightly above 40 people died and 1 500 malaria cases recorded every month of the six month-malaria season," Mr da Silva said.

Botswana lost 48 people and had 500 cases reported a week while Swaziland recorded 60 cases a week.

The experts said they were still compiling data for the other Sadc countries, Angola, DRC, Madagascar, Malawi and Tanzania.

Malaria outbreaks are experienced in humid and warm temperature environments. The malaria epidemics in the region are caused by plasmodium falciparum, which thrives in temperatures of between 25 to 32 degrees celsius and in particular following increases in rainfall patterns.

"Many parts of Southern Africa suffer cyclic rainfall deficits and the countries should be prepared for increased levels of malaria when the rains return to more normal levels," Mr da Silva said.

He said during last rainy season, acute malaria epidemics were reported in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, southern parts of Mozambique, Ajozorobe district in Madagascar, Mankuou and Andara districts of Namibia, Limpopo province of South Africa and in areas on the Zambezi Valley in Zimbabwe.

In Zambia, Choma and Kazungula districts were hard hit while Uganda, which is not part of Sadc but has submitted its data to the Sadc malaria monitoring agencies, suffered in districts around Lake Victoria.

The climate and malaria experts were expected to come up with a strategy document on how best they can work together.

"The malaria trend in countries like Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia calls for concerted efforts by all stakeholders. Because of migration, the epidemic can easily spread within the region or other parts of Africa," acting co-ordinator of SARCOF Mr Brad Garan'anga said.