The health department will start providing malaria-prevention drugs at state clinics next year, a move likely to be of particular benefit to low- income migrant workers who travel to high-risk areas of SA and southern Africa.
At present, malaria prophylaxis can be obtained only in the private sector. Patients have to consult a travel clinic or doctor for a prescription for the drugs.
Although the number of malaria deaths in SA pales in comparison to other infectious diseases, it is nevertheless a public health priority.
SA is also among the African countries that have agreed to try to eradicate the disease by 2015.
Provinces would start clinics with malaria prevention medicines as soon as the department published its 2008 list of approved drugs, said the national programme manager for malaria, Patrick Moonasar.
In addition to providing the medication, clinics would also advise travellers to malaria areas to take non-drug precautions such as wearing long-sleeved clothing, and using insecticides and bed nets, he said.
The malaria prophylaxis provided by public clinics would be the same as that offered by the private sector, he said, and would include mefloquine (sold under the brand name Larium), malarone, as well as the low-dose antibiotic doxycycline.
Moonasar said the provision of malaria-prevention drugs at clinics underlined the government's commitment to fighting malaria, which is caused by a mosquito-borne parasite.
SA had made "important strides" in controlling the disease, largely due to a big insecticide spraying programme begun several years ago under the Lubombo Spatial Development initiative with Mozambique and Swaziland, he said.
SA had also introduced more effective malaria drugs.
Malaria-carrying mosquitoes are found in KwaZulu-Natal, and low-lying areas of Mpumalanga and Limpopo.
Citing figures from KwaZulu- Natal, Moonasar said the number of reported malaria cases had declined from 41786 in 2000 to just 1211 last year.
The malaria transmission season runs from September to May.
The National Health Council, which includes the provincial health MECs, is considering updated malaria treatment guidelines published on the department's website last week.
They include a map of SA's malaria risk areas, which show a slight shrinking of the malaria-transmission areas since 2003, which Moonasar attributed to the government's malaria control efforts.
Mtunzini and Tugela in KwaZulu-Natal are no longer considered malaria-risk areas, and the region between Hlabisa, St Lucia and Ubombo has been downgraded from intermediate risk to low risk.