Malaria continues to be the leading cause of death and morbidity on the African continent. It is estimated between 300 and 500 million people are infected with malaria each year and millions die from a disease that is entirely preventable and curable. What makes matters worse is that more than 90 per cent of the deaths occur in children under the age of five. Every year, malaria robs Africa of potential leaders, scientists, and entrepreneurs - yet the disease is both preventable and entirely curable.
This year Zimbabwe hosted the east and southern African planning meeting. This year was also the first year that east African countries attended the proceedings. With the addition of the east African countries the number of countries attending increased to 14. In addition to the representatives from each of the countries a number of individuals from the private sector, ranging from pesticide representatives to pharmaceutical representatives, attended the conference. There was also a large body of representatives from the large multilateral donor agencies attending the proceedings.
Many of the worst affected African countries, which are located in the East and Southern regions of the continent, are increasingly recognising the importance a well-run vector control programme, particularly with the use of indoor residual spraying. Furthermore, there is increasing recognition of the importance of treating malaria with artemisinin based combination therapies and many southern and east African countries have adopted these drugs as their first line treatment for malaria.
Most cases of malaria are diagnosed on the basis of clinical symptoms and treatment is presumptive, rather than based on laboratory confirmation. This is one of the major contributing factors to resistance build up. Indeed, resistance to chloroquine - the former treatment of choice - is widespread, with estimates of around 80% in countries where malaria continues to be a major killer. For this reason it is imperative to make the correct diagnosis of patients, based on scientific evidence, if wish to see the outstanding results we have observed thus far with artemisinin based combination therapies extend into the future.
Fortunately, many countries present at the meeting have recognised and adopted the relatively new rapid diagnostic tests. These tests are easy to administer and are cost a fraction of the traditional microscopy means of testing. The introduction of rapid diagnostic tests has also reduced the caseload on existing laboratory technicians and has enabled testing to be done in areas where previously it was impossible to do so.
Many southern and east African countries have recognised the importance of forming cross-border initiatives with neighbouring countries. One of the successful initiatives is the Lubombo Spatial Development Initiative (LSDI), which a cross-country collaboration between South Africa, Swaziland Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Due to the high level of human traffic in these areas it was important to establish an integrated vector control programme.
To read on and get specific information on the country malaria control programs, please download Jasson Urbach's report here: http://www.fightingmalaria.org/pdfs/ESAMC_aug06.pdf